An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Religious Education
in the Junior Cycle
De la Salle College
Dundalk, County Louth
Roll number: 63891T
Date of inspection: 22 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Religious Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Religious Education for junior cycle classes and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day 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 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.
De La Salle College is a Catholic boys’ secondary school under the trusteeship of the De La Salle Brothers. Currently, 498 boys are enrolled and there are eight girls who are repeating the Leaving Certificate. The De La Salle ethos is evident in the school in a number of ways including the creation of a ‘sacred space’ and the display in classrooms of some of De La Salle’s short prayers. While a programme of Religious Education is offered to students in all year groups, this evaluation is concerned only with the preparation of students for Junior Certificate examinations in the subject, following study of the religious education syllabus prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). This syllabus for junior cycle was introduced by the NCCA in 2000 and the first Junior Certificate examination in the subject was held in June 2003. The course seeks to promote an understanding and appreciation of why people believe, as well as tolerance and respect for the beliefs and values of all. The course is inclusive of students from all faith backgrounds and from none.
Religious Education is a core subject on the school’s curriculum and all students take this subject. The school has recently decided to allow first year students to choose whether they would like to study the subject for certificate examinations and it is anticipated that a single second year class group will be formed in September 2008. Those students who will opt not to undertake the examinations will be provided with a school-designed religious education programme. Currently, there are four religious education class groups in second year and three in third year. The changed arrangements will pose some challenges for the religious education teaching team and consideration should be given by them to how best to promote the subject as an attractive option for students to study as an examination subject for the Junior Certificate.
Mixed-ability class groups are formed for Religious Education. The allocation of three classes per week in each of the three years is in keeping with NCCA recommendations. All the teachers who deliver the course have a specialist qualification in the subject.
Support for the subject in the school is very good. A dedicated religious education room has been allocated for the use of teachers and this allows for the storage of the many teaching and learning resource materials available in the department. A variety of stimulating and supportive visual materials, which celebrate students’ own work, is on display in this room. Teachers make very good use of the religious education notice board to mark the liturgical seasons and draw students’ attention to activities. There are plans in place in the school to establish a prayer room close by and teachers also have access to audio-visual equipment to support the teaching of the subject. At the time of the evaluation, it was reported that a data projector and laptop will be acquired in the future for the department and this updating of resources is commended.
School management has facilitated attendance by the teachers at cluster meetings organised by the Religious Education Support Service and this commitment to the continuing professional development of the religious education teaching team is commended.
Subject department planning is very well established in De La Salle College. Planning documents were presented at the time of the evaluation. These indicated that good use had been made of templates provided by the School Development Planning Initiative to write a comprehensive description of the work of the department. The programme for Religious Education in junior cycle was appropriately rooted in the NCCA syllabus documents and reflected the Christian and Lasallian dimensions of the school’s characteristic spirit. It is suggested that a statement on how the school’s religious education programme accommodates non-Christian and non-religious viewpoints should be included, to better reflect the openness and concern for students from all faith backgrounds that was evident in the school.
The subject plan indicated that a linear approach is taken to the teaching of the syllabus. This allows for systematic presentation of each theme as it presents in the syllabus. However, this can mean a substantial burden of revision work, particularly for less able students, in preparation for the certificate examinations. Consideration of whether a spiral, integrated approach to the syllabus would be more helpful could form part of subject department discussions. Given the changed subject option arrangements for the coming year, clear delineation is needed between the programmes in Religious Education offered in the school.
The work of the religious education department is co-ordinated by a senior member of the teaching team. Formal meetings are held three or four times each year and records are kept of these meetings. The teachers are highly commended for their commitment to the subject, which sees them meeting regularly on an informal basis to co-ordinate their work.
Preparation for teaching was very good, as evidenced by the choice of resources used and the focused working atmosphere established in each lesson observed. In one lesson, a good colour reproduction of an icon was available for distribution in the class, for example, and in another, a set of pictures was used to stimulate student thinking. The use of images and other artifacts is a very helpful strategy because it provides students with concrete examples of the concept being studied and establishes a link between lived experience and the ideas explored in the religious education class. Of particular note in De La Salle College was the provision of additional material designed to help students ‘read’ the images and the teachers are commended for the work done prior to class to prepare these materials. This level of preparedness ensured that all lessons proceeded smoothly and without interruption so that the learning objectives were achieved.
Lessons began with a review of homework or of work completed previously and a clear learning objective was outlined for the lesson. This helped focus students and situated the work being done. Good use was made of repetition to reinforce learning and students were encouraged to annotate classroom discussions in their notebooks.
There was a strong focus on revision work in some of the classes visited. This is appropriate given the time of the year when the evaluation took place. It is acknowledged that the nature of a revision lesson is different from an introductory or explicatory lesson; nevertheless, it is recommended that all lessons should provide opportunities for students to critically engage with material rather than simply rehearse factual knowledge.
Student interest and attention was stimulated by the teaching and learning activities planned for the lessons observed. In a lesson on prayer forms, students worked independently to complete a worksheet in the initial phase of the lesson. This was followed by pair work which allowed students to discuss their answers together. There was a stronger focus on the teacher in the lesson’s final phase but students were very secure in asking for clarification. Each phase of the lesson was very well managed and the effectiveness of the strategy employed was evident in the degree of comfort with which students commented spontaneously on the teacher’s input.
Students were encouraged to make notes in all lessons. Their notebooks were well organised and constitute a valuable revision aid. It was evident that the full range of ability is represented in the school, with some students struggling to manage the writing tasks set by teachers. Nevertheless, good strategies were in place to support them, including the setting of short answer questions, the use of graphic organisers and of frames to encourage writing. This latter was evident also in the classrooms, where a warm, respectful, atmosphere had been established. Teachers knew their students well and encouraged them to participate to their potential.
Teachers set a broad range of writing exercises as homework tasks. These included imaginative exercises, like a witness account of Jesus’ death and students’ own prayers or parables. These exercises are highly commended as a practical way to encourage students to ‘enter into’ the events being studied and gain insight. Exercises which move beyond checking students’ knowledge or recall of information allow them to reflect on their own religious experience or the experiences of others, a key aim of the junior cycle syllabus. It was noted that such exercises are more often set in the early years of that programme and that this was gradually replaced by a strong examination orientation. Care should be taken to ensure that a balance is maintained between necessary examination practice and exercises which facilitate reflection and developed thought.
An examination of students’ copies and notebooks indicated good evidence of progression in the quality of the work completed by them. Teachers correct work promptly and, in some instances, their comments provide positive affirmation of students’ work. There is scope to provide more detailed, developmental, feedback which both identifies areas for development and affirms the work done.
Summative assessment tests are held at Christmas and summer and common papers are set for these. This good practice allows the department to monitor students’ progress across each year group and means that teachers are well placed to advise students regarding the level at which they should sit certificate examinations in Religious Education. In addition to parent-teacher meetings which are held annually, parents are kept informed of students’ progress through reports which issue three times during the year. Teachers keep good records of students’ progress.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Support for Religious Education for junior cycle classes in the school is very good.
· The religious education teaching team meet regularly to share their expertise and subject knowledge.
· A comprehensive plan for the organisation of teaching and learning in Religious Education has been developed.
· The lessons observed were very well planned and delivered and student interest and attention was stimulated by the teaching and learning activities planned.
· Teachers set imaginative writing exercises which are highly commended as practical ways to support student engagement with the concepts of the course.
· A warm, respectful, atmosphere had been established in all classrooms. Teachers knew their students well and encouraged them to participate to their potential.
· Students were making good progress in the subject.
· Homework is promptly corrected and appropriate records of students’ results are maintained.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· A statement on how the school’s religious education programme accommodates non-Christian or non-religious viewpoints (or both) should be included in the department plan.
· Students should be encouraged to develop their understanding and their critical skills by the setting of written work which facilitates critical reflection and developed thought.
· Detailed, developmental feedback should be provided on homework exercises.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Religious Education and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomes the Inspection Report as it recognises and affirms the quality of teaching and learning in Religious Education in De La Salle College.
The Religious Education department reviews annually the decision on whether to use a linear or spiral, integrated approach to the syllabus.