An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Saint Kieran’s College
College Road, Kilkenny
Roll number: 61560J
Date of inspection: 8 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in english
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny. 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.
There is good provision of English lessons on the timetable for third, fifth and sixth years, as these year groups have five periods of English each week. Provision of lessons for first and second years is just satisfactory as these year groups have four periods of English weekly. Likewise, Transition Year (TY) class groups have three English lessons each week, which is satisfactory but not generous provision. Some class groups in different years have an uneven distribution of lesson periods across the week; for example, fifth-years have English twice on Friday and not at all on Monday. A more even distribution of English lessons across the week is recommended. Concurrency of English lessons is provided on the timetable in fifth and sixth year and there was evidence that this is being very well used; for example, English teachers share the teaching of poetry among all fifth and sixth year class groups.
Students in the school are banded for English in all years except TY, where they are placed in mixed-ability classes. The placement of TY students into mixed-ability groupings is appropriate and in keeping with the spirit of the year. In each year of junior cycle, the highest-ability students are placed into the top band which comprises two classes and is entirely higher level and the remainder are placed into the second band which is a mix of levels. The placement of students into ability groupings from first year onwards is very early. It is recommended that consideration be given to introducing mixed-ability groupings from first year through to third year as there is evidence that placement of students into ability groupings at an early stage has ‘negative consequences on the outcomes of junior cycle’ for a large body of students. In addition, the numbers of students aiming for higher level should increase even further if they are placed in mixed-ability class groups from first year.
In fifth and sixth year, the highest-ability students are mixed into the top band which contains three class groups; these are studying higher-level English. The remaining students are mixed into
two class groups to form the second band which is mainly an ordinary-level band. Such placement is appropriate at this stage of senior cycle. It was clear during the evaluation that students are encouraged to take higher-level English if at all possible and therefore students in the second band are also given the opportunity to do higher level, which is good practice.
The range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English in the college is highly commended. They include: in-school and external writing competitions; guest writers and speakers, including writers in residence; opportunities for students’ work to be published in a range of internal and external publications; a writers’ group for students facilitated by English teachers; external debating competitions at senior cycle and in-class and inter-class junior cycle debating; poetry workshops and opportunities for students to recite poetry; visits to the cinema and theatre and the ‘Moving Image’ module in TY. Some of the students’ excellent compositions and poems published as a result of being given such opportunities are very highly commended as are the many opportunities for students to appreciate English beyond the classroom. Some teachers have participated in a wide range of in-service which indicates commitment to their subject, students and teaching. Very commendable practice takes place in that new ideas are disseminated among members of the English department. In addition, some teachers have given in-service for the Teaching English Support Service and the Association of English Teachers.
There is good whole school support for English from management and good provision for updating resources. Teachers retain their class groups within cycles, where possible, to ensure continuity. English teachers have, in the main, their own base classrooms which were well equipped with relevant resources including televisions and DVDs. These classrooms were exemplary print-rich environments as key word and key quote posters, commercially produced posters and students’ work were on display. The absence of a library is strongly felt by the English teachers but teachers are highly commended for bringing boxes of books into their classrooms to distribute books to their students and thus encourage the reading habit. In this regard, students are also encouraged to participate in the Readathon and structured reading classes also take place for a specific period of time. Private reading is encouraged from first year. The school has applied for a library grant under the Dormant Accounts Scheme.
There are two computer rooms in the school. Good practice occurs as the English department has access to a laptop and data projector and there was evidence that these are well used by the department. This is highly commended as such use exposes students to different learning experiences. In addition, the English department uploads resources onto the school’s computer network so that these can be shared among teaching colleagues, which is very good practice.
The school has made good progress in catering for students with special educational needs (SEN). Individual educational plans and a whole school SEN policy are being developed. In addition, a language support teacher supports students whose first language is not English. SEN students are given extra support through withdrawal in small groups, on an individual basis or, in the case of Mathematics, through team teaching. Consideration should be given to introducing team teaching in English also to class groups where there are a number of SEN students. Plans are underway to visit feeder primary schools to access information about SEN students and to re-test SEN students at the end of each year to ascertain literacy improvements. Such plans are to be encouraged. It is recommended that the resource and learning support departments work in tandem to ensure integrated provision for students in need of additional supports. There is also a need for a dedicated room for the provision of this support to students.
There was evidence of good liaison between the resource department and the English teachers through attendance at some English planning meetings and by briefing teachers about particular students in their class groups. The need for whole staff in-service in SEN provision has been identified in order to continue the good work already underway and build on previous in-service.
The English department is very progressive and clearly reflective. It is willing to try out new ideas and promote a range of opportunities for the students in the school. Many English teachers are highly commended for taking the lead in introducing these initiatives into the school. New teachers to the English department have a nominated English teacher to consult with. There is also a list of available resources for the subject which is distributed among all English teachers. This is highly commended.
Good practice takes place in that the role of co-ordinator of English is rotated which shares the workload and facilitates a spread of expertise and skills. At the time of the evaluation there was evidence that English was very ably and enthusiastically co-ordinated.
Management provides for three to four formal subject planning meetings annually and the English department also meets on three further occasions during the school year. Good practice takes place in that an agenda for these meetings is prepared and minutes are recorded.
A plan is available for the subject which follows the school development planning initiative template. The department’s aims and the aims of the syllabuses are the same and there was evidence that these are being achieved. The plan also indicates an awareness of the learning outcomes that each year group should achieve. All first years study a novel, a range of poetry, which is commendably taught thematically, short stories, public speaking and writing. The four skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening are developed from first year right through until sixth year. Media Studies is absent from the first-year plan and should be included to ensure that students are exposed to all genre from first year. A second novel, as well as the drama and all other genres are taught in second year. In many cases, third year is mainly a revision year. It is recommended that a greater range of new material be introduced in third year so that it does not only become a revision year. It must be noted that this is already the practice among some teachers.
The TY English programme is commended as students are exposed to an interesting variety of poetry, fiction, drama and media as well as writing in different styles and participating in public speaking. English teachers are free to devise their own TY course and their TY plans are highly commended. At the time of the evaluation, a number of guest writers were hosting workshops with TY class groups and this was seen to be effective and interesting. Good practice takes place in planning for fifth year as teachers agree on the work to cover throughout the year. It was reported that fifth-year and sixth-year students remain in their class groups and do not move even if they wish to change level as they are facilitated to take their chosen level within the class group. The practice observed in one instance of fifth-year students reviewing a range of comparative texts to decide on the third comparative text is laudable.
There was a very good quality of teaching and learning observed during the course of the inspection. All teachers were very well prepared for their lessons and useful supplementary resources were at hand to enhance learning. In one instance, an audio recording of a poem was used so that students heard the authentic voice of the poet and there were examples where ICT was effectively used to present an extract from a play and to display a sequence of slides on short story writing. The board was very well used to record key points made during the course of the lessons and homework was always written on the board, which is good practice.
A clear purpose was established to each lesson and, in one case, this purpose was written on the board with the intention of checking at the end to see if students had achieved the learning outcome. This very good practice is recommended to all teachers. Clear instructions were given when specific tasks were set for students and very good pre-reading exercises were observed. For example, students were asked to discuss their attitude to immigration and to boarding schools as an introduction to a new poem. Key vocabulary pertaining to new texts was also pre-taught. The invitation to students to give their initial reaction to new texts such as poems before analysing them in detail is also highly commended.
Links were created between texts which put learning in context for students. There was also a good focus on the students learning key quotes. One very good strategy was reported where students had to justify why certain quotations were worthy of being displayed on the classroom wall.
A good structure incorporating a variety of tasks was in evidence in all lessons. For example, a presentation on key points in relation to short story writing was followed by the use of an exemplar of good practice and then followed by a focused discussion between students on examples of effective writing which led to a good whole class discussion in a plenary session.
Students took responsibility for their own learning by writing down points made during the lessons by fellow students and by teachers. Active learning was observed in all lessons with very good student participation through strategies such as pair work, brainstorming, role play, group work and whole class discussion. In general, students participated very well in their lessons and were well behaved although some attention-seeking behaviour was observed in one instance.
The quality of questioning was very good. Best practice was seen when questions covered all ability levels as the teachers asked a mix of general questions and questions of named individuals. Many teachers asked challenging, open-ended and leading questions which probed students to explore their texts further. For example, by exploring the effect of specific vocabulary in a poem, students were able to gain a deeper understanding of the feelings of the poet and the overall tone of the poem.
There was a focus on developing students’ writing skills observed in some teachers’ plans and this was very much in evidence from the range of work that students had covered. Teachers used creative modelling with their students to improve their writing. Exemplars of students’ work were appropriately used. Writing frames were also in evidence to help students construct answers. There was also evidence of the integration of language and literature, which is very good practice; for example, students had to write a letter from the point of view of characters in their studied play. There was also a good focus on developing students’ personal response to literature.
There was very clear evidence of learning. Students were very good at answering questions put to them by the inspector and they showed very good knowledge of their texts. In addition, in many cases, the lessons were enjoyable. The uptake of higher-level Junior Certificate English has increased steadily and significantly in the last four years. The uptake of higher-level English is seen to be also increasing at Leaving Certificate level.
Students sit four sets of examinations annually where reports are sent home to parents. The main examinations are held at Christmas and in the summer and class-based tests are held in October and at Easter. Examination classes sit ‘mock’ exams which are externally corrected. An annual parent-teacher meeting is held for each year group. There was evidence that the English department and management analyse the school’s English results in state examinations which shows good reflection and a desire to improve. Currently, each teacher sets their own English examination. Although the exams are not used as the basis of student placement, consideration should be given to using common examinations as it ensures that the same learning outcomes are achieved by all.
In many cases, the standard of presentation and organisation of student folders and copies was very good. Many teachers insist on students having a hardback copy for their notes which is good practice as it motivates students to maintain their work well and retain the notes for revision. Some class groups also used folders which contained a range of supplementary material created by the teachers themselves or taken from other useful sources. From observation of students’ copies and folders it was clear that appropriate work was given in a range of genre for different purposes and audiences. Students also received regular longer pieces of written work which were suitably challenging. To build on this very good practice and to ensure consistency of practice it is recommended that teachers agree the minimum number of essays and longer pieces of work that each year group should be assigned.
Homework was, in the main, well corrected although it was recommended in one instance that homework needed to be corrected in more detail at times, especially the longer pieces of work. Excellent constructive comments were seen to be given in many cases so that students received feedback on where they needed to improve. The application of such ‘assessment for learning’ techniques is highly commended. Good practice also takes place in that written work is marked in accordance with the marking schemes for both Junior and Leaving Certificate English.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Students have many opportunities to appreciate English beyond the classroom by being offered a wide range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English.
· Some teachers have participated in a wide range of in-service and new ideas are disseminated among members of the English department.
· There is good whole school support for English by management and good provision for updating resources.
· English classrooms were exemplary print-rich environments.
· Teachers have introduced many strategies to develop the reading habit among students.
· ICT is used effectively in the English department.
· The English department is willing to try out new ideas and promote a range of opportunities for the students in the school.
· English is very ably and enthusiastically co-ordinated.
· The English subject plan is well developed and indicates an awareness of the learning outcomes that each year group should achieve. The four skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening are developed from first year right through until sixth year.
· TY students are exposed to a variety of genre.
· There was evidence of good liaison between the resource department and the English department.
· There was a very good quality of teaching and learning observed. Active learning was observed in all lessons with very good student participation
· There was a good focus on developing students’ writing skills.
· Students are encouraged to take English to their highest achievable level and uptake of higher-level English has increased.
· Students are regularly assessed. It was clear that appropriate work was given in a range of genre for different purposes and audiences and this work was, in the main, very well presented and corrected.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· A more even distribution of English lessons across the week is recommended.
· Consideration should be given to introducing mixed-ability placement of students in class groups for English lessons from first year through to third year.
· The resource and learning support departments should work in tandem to ensure integrated provision for students in need of additional supports. Consideration should be given to introducing team teaching in English to class groups where there are a number of SEN students
· All teachers should introduce a greater range of new material in third year and agree the minimum number of essays and longer pieces of work that each year group should be assigned.
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.
Published December 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management is pleased that this report is such a positive endorsement of the work being done by teachers in St. Kieran’s College. The Board is pleased that it recognises the quality of teaching and learning in this subject area.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
A new library project, four-fifths of the cost of which is being borne by the Trustees/Board of Management, is currently being undertaken in the school.
Strategic planning towards more mixed-ability placement of students in English and other subject areas has already been undertaken.