An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Roll number: 62360G
Date of inspection: 9 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject
Classes retain their English teacher from second year to third year and for the duration of senior cycle, wherever possible. This is positive, allowing for the development of consistent pedagogical approaches with particular class groups. There is rotation of levels and cycles between teachers. This is good practice as it ensures the maintenance of a wide skills base across the subject department. In the recent past, a member of the English department has retired. This has stretched English teaching resources somewhat. Senior management recognises that the recruitment of a qualified English teacher to address this diminution of the core English teaching team should be viewed as a priority and anticipates that this will be achieved in the near future.
Classes in first year are of mixed ability, with a withdrawal class for students in receipt of learning support. Classes in second year and third year are also of mixed ability, with a learning-support class being maintained for those who opt not to study a European language. Students are selected for literacy support in first year based on referrals from their primary school and a general screening assessment in the January prior to entry. Diagnostic tests are also administered, where required, in the September of students’ first year in the school. Classes in senior cycle are streamed, based on their performance in the state examinations, their performance in house examinations and teacher assessment regarding their suitability for a particular level. Classes in first year, TY, fifth year and sixth year are timetabled concurrently. This is good practice, ensuring ease of movement for students between classes, if necessary. Students wishing to change class or level must complete a form requiring the signature of their teacher, the principal and their parents.
A number of teachers have developed ‘mini-libraries’ in their rooms, in the absence of a central school library, and DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time is used in a number of classes. This is commendable. Sets of novels are also kept by English teachers and the English department reports that it aspires towards the creation of a lending library service in the school. This is most positive and teachers are encouraged to pursue this goal. Further ideas for the development of library services might include the creation of ‘book boxes’ and the purchase of read along texts, along with periodicals and high interest/low reading ability books. The creation of a library policy, setting out the department’s strategies in this area of its practice, could also present a focus for the subject-planning process. A useful resource in this area is the website of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) at www.cilip.org.uk. The department might also investigate the possibility of creating links with the School Library Association in the Republic of Ireland (SLARI). A paired-reading programme has been organised in the past. It is suggested that the school might revisit this activity, possibly with the involvement of TY students as tutors to first-year students experiencing difficulties in literacy development.
Access to audio-visual resources is excellent. Beyond this, general resources for senior-cycle English are stored in a resource room and this too is positive. All classrooms are networked, with access to the internet. There is a computer room and there is also a computer in each classroom. Data projectors are provided in many rooms and more of these are to be supplied in the near future. The school is to be complimented on its forward-looking approach to the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the classroom. Beyond this, English teachers are to be praised for their awareness of the potential for ICT to further enhance the learning experiences of their students. The expansion and sharing of ICT expertise in the English department is to be encouraged. Further ideas which might be worth exploring include the use of webquests in connection with junior-cycle project work, the use of writing frames in conjunction with data projectors and the creation of a ‘favourites’ list on the school network connected to web-based resources for the teaching and learning of English. This latter item will be considerably aided by the department’s previously developed list of useful websites which is currently included in the subject plan.
An induction day is organised by the Christian Brothers for new teachers. Beyond this, there is a teacher assigned to act as mentor to student teachers. The principal also monitors student teachers during the year. Student teachers and new teachers are put in contact with other members of the subject department for additional support. This is very worthwhile and it is suggested that these induction procedures should be briefly set down in the subject plan in order to consolidate and, potentially, expand the good practice which exists with regard to induction.
The school is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development. Teachers are facilitated in attending in-service training courses and the school pays the subscription for teachers who wish to maintain membership of the relevant subject association. This is positive. Teachers have participated in a number of in-service training courses and links are maintained with the Cork Teachers of English. All of this is to be commended. Beyond this, the English department has subscribed to membership of the Fleischmann Resource Library in the Cork Education Support Centre. Resources and information resulting from teachers’ attendance at in-service training courses are passed to other members of the subject department on an informal basis. This is sound practice and it is suggested that this process should be formalised in the future through inclusion in the subject plan and might, potentially, form part of future subject departmental meetings.
While there is currently a senior co-ordinator for English, there is no junior co-ordinator due to the previously mentioned retirement of a member of the English department. In order to alleviate the impact of this situation, a first-year co-ordinator has been appointed on a rotational basis. While the department is to be commended for being proactive in addressing the lack of a junior-cycle co-ordinator, it is recommended that the position of an overall subject co-ordinator for English should be adopted and that the co-ordinator should be appointed on a rotational rather than on a permanent basis. This would greatly alleviate the impact of shifts in personnel, allowing for greater flexibility in reacting to such moves. Furthermore, it will ensure the maintenance of a wide skills base with regard to leadership in the English department, with all members of the department adopting a leadership position at some point.
Formal meeting time is provided at the start of the school year and on school development planning days. Additional time may also be allocated, as required by the department. This is positive and senior management is encouraged to continue to support the development of the planning process through the provision of such formal planning time. Beyond this, there are numerous informal meetings between members of the English department. Minutes are kept of departmental meetings. Among the issues discussed at recent meetings are included first-year texts, the need for a first-year co-ordinator, the establishment of a learning-support class, links with the Cork Education Support Centre and the need for a ‘resource box’ in English.
The English department has put considerable effort into the creation of a subject plan. The plan includes records of departmental meetings, teacher plans, assessment procedures, a first-year plan and a list of general resources. Teachers are to be commended on the work involved in creating the plan and it is recommended that the subject plan should continue to be developed. It is suggested that ICT should be used in this endeavour in order to facilitate revision and adjustment of the subject plan if and when this proves to be necessary. Some areas which may be worth exploring include the further development of the current plan, in order to incorporate common skills-based plans for each year group. Such an approach will allow freedom for teachers with regard to text choice for their individual classes, it will also facilitate the planning of common examinations, where appropriate, across particular year groups. Beyond this, the analysis of state examination results versus national norms should also be explored, along with the setting out of key methodologies to be used in the teaching of English and the use of assessment for learning in English classes. A useful resource for the latter topic can be found in the assessment for learning area of the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie.
Teachers are involved in the organisation of a range of extracurricular and co-curricular activities. Among these are included visits to the theatre, the performance of a play in Transition Year and the visit of a theatre group once a year. Teachers’ efforts in this area are to be praised.
Variation of text choice has featured in senior cycle. This is good practice. The department is encouraged to extend the practice of varying texts to include junior cycle. The website, www.childrensbooksireland.com may prove useful as a resource in choosing suitable texts for young adults. Currently, junior cycle classes study Shakespearean drama through the use of extracts from a variety of plays. The English department is encouraged to consider the study of a full Shakespearean text in junior cycle. This suggestion is made with a view to the impact such a strategy would have on students’ engagement with the compulsory study of Shakespeare in senior cycle. Teachers report that the study of a full novel in first year is sometimes undertaken. This is very worthwhile and the extension of this activity to include all class groups should be pursued. There is synchronisation of text choice at senior cycle in order to facilitate the movement of students between levels, where necessary. This is sound practice.
There is a written TY programme. This is positive. It is recommended that the English department should further develop the programme, using it to explore themes and skills not directly linked to the anticipated Leaving Certificate syllabus. This should be viewed not only as a means of enhancing TY students’ experiences of English, but also as a powerful tool in the continuing professional development of members of the English department. The further development of the TY plan should be pursued on a departmental basis. Another worthwhile addition with regard to subject planning would be the creation of a policy regarding the Leaving Certificate Applied. Of particular importance in such a document would be the inclusion of departmental practice regarding the storage of key assignments and the recording of the completion of key assignments by students.
The school has a number of students in receipt of language support. The school is referred to Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) as a resource in the area of English as a Second Language (ESL). IILT provides resources for use in ESL classes on its website at www.iilt.ie. It also provides seminars for school principals and language-support teachers on a twice-yearly basis.
A learning-support departmental plan has been developed and this is most worthwhile. A positive feature of the current learning-support departmental plan is the relatively small size of the current education-support team and the school is encouraged to maintain the size of the team at the current, manageable, level.
Links between the English department and the learning-support department are on a largely informal basis. In particular, links are maintained regarding the co-ordination of withdrawal teaching groups. There is a learning-support referral form for subject teachers’ use, should they have concerns with regard to a particular student, and samples of students’ writing are to be included when transferring this form to the learning-support department. Meetings between members of the learning-support department and the English department are also held on a needs basis. As mentioned earlier in this report, students in receipt of literacy support are withdrawn in small class groups in first year, second year and third year. Individual withdrawal of students is also practiced, as required. At present, literacy-support lessons are held in the foyer due to the space restrictions under which the growing school population currently operates. Senior management is encouraged to keep this situation under review and to avoid it, where possible. There has been whole-staff in-service provided by the school’s Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO). This is worthwhile and the school is encouraged to continue to pursue opportunities for teachers’ professional development, where practicable.
A good standard of teaching and learning was observed in lessons. Objectives were clear in all lessons. Planning documentation was presented by all teachers. Teachers were affirming to students in all cases.
A wide range of resources was used in the teaching of English. Among these were included the whiteboard, overhead projector, photocopies, ICT, marking schemes of the State Examinations Commission and laminated illustrations. The appropriate use of ICT in a number of lessons was particularly impressive, with one teacher utilising a data projector to illustrate a point, while, in another lesson, a subtitled explanation of a Shakespearean scene was presented in conjunction with an audio-visual presentation of the play in question. Teachers are to be praised for their imaginative use of resources to enhance teaching and learning.
There was a good focus on language in English lessons. Students were frequently expected to text-mark features of language use in passages, or to explain the reasons why particular stylistic devices were adopted by writers. The use of an integrated approach to a property review which was based on the text being studied by a senior cycle class was especially praiseworthy. A potentially worthwhile resource for English lessons in the future would be the use of a dictionary and thesaurus by each student as a further aid to their vocabulary acquisition.
The use of pair work and active methodologies was observed during the evaluation. This was most worthwhile as an aid to the pacing of lessons and served to place greater responsibility for learning on the shoulders of students. The English department is encouraged to further expand its practice in this area. In particular, this approach will serve to enhance the potential for differentiation between abilities, particularly in junior cycle classes.
A very positive feature in English lessons was the emphasis placed on the development of students’ writing skills. In one instance this involved the creation of a Leaving Certificate examination answer with the aid of ICT, while another lesson featured students’ exploration of various descriptive phrases as a means of increasing their proficiency in essay writing. In another lesson, notes were used which might have been developed further to facilitate a creative modelling approach on the part of the teacher. The highlighting by teachers of the importance of written work is to be commended.
A good relationship between teachers and students was evident in English classes. Humour was used effectively as a classroom management tool in a number of instances. Links were also made by teachers between students’ own experiences and the topics being studied during lessons. Classroom management was good overall and this is positive. Students were engaged in lessons, with frequent examples of text-marking, diligent note-taking and participation in written work. Students offered answers readily and were particularly engaged through the use of ICT in some lessons. They displayed ready knowledge of the material they had studied when questioned.
The English department has recognised the worth of creating a print-rich environment. A number of posters are in the process of being laminated at present and will subsequently be displayed in English base rooms. Further ideas which might be explored in the creation of such an environment include the creation and display of keywords by class groups, the development of character or text diagrams by students and the display of students’ work in specific genres. This latter approach will encourage awareness in the student body of the importance of audience, alongside the place of the drafting and redrafting process in all good writing.
Homework was regularly assigned and corrected in all classes. Appropriate amounts were in evidence in almost all classes, while in one instance the assigning of a greater quantity of work would be of benefit as students ‘learn to write by writing’. There was evidence of formative, comment-based assessment in all classes and this is to be praised. Teachers are encouraged to continue with this practice, to further develop it where practicable, and within time constraints. It is recommended that the English department should explore the use of an integrated approach to the language and literature elements of the syllabus in the setting of students’ homework. This would allow texts which are studied to act as ‘springboards’ towards the writing of different genres by students while simultaneously enhancing students’ engagement with the texts in question.
There are midterm assessments for Leaving Certificate students in October. There are formal examinations at Christmas for all year groups. Students in third year and in sixth year participate in mock examinations in February. Formal summer examinations are held for first-year, second-year, TY and fifth-year students. In addition to these examinations, informal assessments are also conducted by teachers for their own class groups. The English department organises common examinations for first-year classes. This is very positive and the teachers are encouraged to expand this practice to include second-year and third-year class groups. The fact that these classes are of mixed ability should greatly facilitate such a strategy. The further extension of a policy of common assessment might also be pursued in senior-cycle classes, where appropriate and practicable. The organisation of common assessments would serve to allow a clear picture to emerge regarding students’ achievement across each year group. Beyond this, it would avoid unnecessary duplication of teachers’ work. Students in receipt of literacy support are reassessed in September and June of each year. This is positive.
There is one annual parent/teacher meeting for each year group. Parents receive reports regarding students’ progress at Christmas, summer and, for third-year and sixth-year students, following the mock examinations. Parents of sixth-year students also receive a report following the October midterm assessment. Progress reports are provided for parents on request. These arrangements are commendable.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A good relationship between teachers and students was observed during English lessons.
· The English department has put considerable effort into the creation of a subject plan. This is to be commended.
· There is a co-ordinator of senior cycle English and a co-ordinator of first-year English.
· The school is to be praised for its provision of ICT in English and other classrooms. English teachers are to be praised for their awareness of the opportunities presented through the adoption of ICT in their practice.
· The English department has recognised the worth of creating a print-rich environment in English base rooms. This is commendable.
· There is a common examination for first-year classes. This is good practice and it is suggested that this might profitably be expanded to other year groups.
· A learning-support departmental plan has been developed.
· A number of teachers have developed ‘mini-libraries’ and the further development of library services has been suggested in the school. This is positive.
· A number of formal departmental meetings are held each year. This is positive and senior management is urged to continue to support the development of the planning process through the provision of formal planning time.
· There was a good focus on the use of language in English lessons.
· Texts are varied in senior cycle. This is good practice and the department is encouraged to expand its practice to incorporate variation of text choice in junior cycle.
· The use of pair work and active methodologies was observed during the evaluation. The English department is encouraged to further expand its practice in this area.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The number of English lessons assigned to first-year classes is inadequate and should be increased.
· The subject plan should continue to be developed.
· It is recommended that the position of subject co-ordinator should be appointed on a rotational rather than on a permanent basis.
· It is recommended that the English department should explore the use of an integrated approach to the language and literature elements of the syllabus in the setting of students’ homework.
· It is recommended that the English department should further develop the TY programme, using it to explore themes and skills not directly linked to the anticipated Leaving Certificate syllabus.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the deputy 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
The Board of Management and Staff welcome the overall positive report on the teaching and learning of English in the school.
The main strengths identified in the evaluation are consistent with the Board and Staff’s views. The twelve points detailed by the inspector under ‘main strengths’ reflect our own perception of the efforts by all involved.
We will continue to build and develop these strengths.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The Board of Management and Staff agree with the recommendation that the number of English lessons in first year should be increased. It is anticipated that this will be addressed when the junior cycle curriculum is revised.
The report’s other recommendations are also acknowledged and we will work to ensure their implementation.