An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
CBS Sexton Street,
Roll number: 64200R
Date of inspection: 27 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in english
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Mhichíl, CBS Sexton Street, Limerick, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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.
Timetable provision for English is generally in line with syllabus guidelines. Students have four classes of English per week in first, second, and third years; three classes of English per week in Transition Year (TY); seven classes of English per week in fifth year (a 2007/08 development); and six classes of English per week in sixth year. Given the importance of the junior cycle for consolidating literacy and language skills, it is recommended that one of the seven classes for fifth-year English be reduced and then added to a junior cycle year. (The subject department will best be able to advise on the particular year group this extra English class would most benefit).
Ten teachers are currently involved in the delivery of English in the school. Of the ten, one person teaches English for one class period per week and three others teach English to one class group. The involvement of such a large number of teachers in the provision of mainstream English has created co-ordination difficulties in the area of subject planning for the school. A more consolidated delivery would help promote consistency and continuity. Moreover, due to retirements and other staffing issues in recent years, the practice of English teachers retaining the same class group for a junior or senior cycle has been somewhat disrupted. Hence, it is recommended that school management review these two aspects of its staff deployment practices in relation to mainstream English provision.
With regard to resource provision, school management is commended for its general policy of having teachers based in their own rooms, thus facilitating resource storage and the creation of print-rich environments. The school makes funds available for the purchase of resources on request. Some classrooms have various items of audio-visual equipment, while others have little or none. To derive maximum benefit from the department’s various resources, it is advised that an inventory of all equipment located in English teachers’ classrooms be prepared (noting the location of the various items) and that the department investigate the feasibility of occasional classroom-swopping arrangements. Also, the teachers of English should prepare a departmental request for equipment that still needs to be procured to meet their pedagogical needs. A prioritised version of that list should be submitted to school management for procurement, as resources allow. Finally, aside from the preparation of handouts by teachers and the requirement to word process isolated reports for a few class groups, there was little evidence of the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to deliver the English curriculum. Lack of access to equipment was identified by teachers as the main barrier to the use of ICT in teaching and learning in their classrooms. At the time of the subject inspection, a few English teachers were using their personal laptops to support their teaching, internet connections were not available in any classroom. It was reported that the computer provided for teachers’ use in the workroom adjacent to the staff room currently runs outmoded software, that it is incompatible with current peripherals such as flash drives, and that the internet service in the school’s computer room is unreliable. Given the wealth of resources freely available on the internet to support teaching and learning in English, it is strongly advised that a whole-school strategic plan be implemented to provide for the incidental use of ICT as a teaching resource for English (and all other subjects) in future years.
One other resource issue found to be impacting on teaching and learning during the evaluation was that, despite the annual distribution of school book vouchers to needy students by the school, a small number of students in some classes did not have their own copies of the required texts. A few teachers buy the texts for those students, on the understanding that the students will pay for them during the term. Also, the practice among a few other English teachers has been to assemble class sets of texts for use with students. The English teachers taking these alternative approaches to book shortages are commended for their sensitivity to the needs of these students. However, it is strongly encouraged that a subject department and/or a revised whole-school approach be agreed to replace these ad hoc arrangements. For example, the English teachers may decide that the use of school-owned class sets of texts is an appropriate response to this ongoing difficulty. (It should be noted that this provision may necessitate the provision of lockable storage cupboards/cabinets in all rooms and a collective agreement on the particular months in which English teachers will individually use class-sets, to ensure equitable access for the various class groups to the book sets). The re-structuring of the school’s approach to school voucher administration and/or the establishment of a partial/full book rental scheme could also help to tackle this issue.
Despite the library’s non-operational status for a number of years, a few English teachers have continued to promote personal reading to their students by creating class libraries, establishing paired reading programmes, promoting students’ awareness of World Book Day, awarding book tokens as prizes for in-class competitions, and developing links with the Limerick County library. Such initiatives reflect commitment to the subject and to students and are highly commended. Building on these individual practices, it is recommended that the promotion of personal reading be established as a priority of the department’s junior cycle provision, particularly in first year. Activities to support this work could include the creation of a “Read to Succeed” programme involving guest role models reading to class groups or talking to them about their favourite books, the creation and operation of class libraries, encouraging all students to become members of their local libraries, analysing students’ reading ages and interests, encouraging students to participate in reading challenges such as the M.S. Readathon, recruiting and training TY student volunteers to continue the school’s paired reading initiative, and the creation of mobile book boxes for use in classrooms. Finally, to encourage reluctant readers, it is suggested that high interest, low reading age texts and Readalong packs be included in the stock of texts students are invited to read from. (The learning support co-ordinator could be consulted to provide a list of appropriate texts or text series for such students). The 2001 Children’s Books Ireland/ Department of Education and Science joint publication Book Choice for Post-Primary Schools, the School Library Association of Ireland and the UK School Library Association could help in the selection of such material. (See http://www.libraryassociation.ie and http://www.sla.org.uk/advice-and-support.php). As Circular M16/99 (“Guidelines for reading at Second Level Schools”) intimates, emotional, social, and academic benefits will accrue from such a whole-school promotion of reading: “Habitual reading arouses curiosity about, interest in and confident command of language. The reader takes delight in language and is versatile and comfortable in speaking and writing. These are the factors that develop the more able Leaving Certificate examination candidate.”
In relation to the school’s student organisation procedures, TY students are placed in a mixed-ability class. In fifth and sixth year, English classes are concurrently timetabled to enable student movement between levels. School management is commended for making this facility available. However, the streaming procedure that is used for the formation of junior cycle classes is significantly hampering senior cycle student choice of examination level as only one of the junior cycle streams is being explicitly prepared from first year onward to sit the higher-level JC English examination. While students in other class groups are not precluded from preparing for or taking the higher-level JC English examination, the practice is that the students in the class groups below the top stream take ordinary or foundation level. One of the contributory factors to the low uptake of higher-level JC English among students in the classes below the top stream is that English classes are not concurrently timetabled, thus preventing the movement of a student from a class where all/the majority of students are preparing to sit higher-level examinations to a class where most students are preparing to sit ordinary-level examinations. (A junior cycle student can only move English class currently if he excels in a number of subjects across the board). The effect of the school’s organisation of class groups through streaming is that high expectations are not being communicated to the class groups below the top stream, even though the JC English course is a common one for all examination levels. Consequently, it is strongly recommended that the school review its junior cycle class organisation and that it identify and implement strategies to raise expectations among students and teachers across year groups. Advice in relation to the formation of classes and to the placement of students can be found in Looking at English: Teaching & Learning English in Post-Primary Schools and in Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines (See http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/des_insp_
Co-curricular and extra-curricular activities support the teaching and learning of English in Coláiste Mhichíl. Students are prepared to enter public speaking and debating competitions and are encouraged to enter writing competitions. A paired reading initiative was successfully run last year. An end-of-year variety show and trips to theatrical productions are organised annually. School management and the English teachers are highly commended for their commitment to providing such activities for their students.
English teachers wishing to engage in continuing professional development are encouraged and supported by school management through approved time-off and or financial support. Some teachers of English have availed of ICT courses organised by the Limerick Education Centre and of courses run by the Second Level Support Service. Through one of its members, the department has a direct connection to the Midwest English Teachers’ Association (META), the national Teacher Professional Network for second-level English teachers. Also, the school’s special education co-ordinator is a member of the department. Hence, peer professional support is readily available among the school’s teachers of English. With regard to the professional development of the department in the future, it is recommended that it collaboratively re-examine the LC English syllabus and the associated Draft Guidelines for Teachers of English and Resource Materials for Teaching Language to support those teachers who were not able to avail of the in-service programme for the new syllabus. Also, it is encouraged that the department continue consulting the Teaching English Support Service (TESS) website (http://english.slss.ie/Main/), the TESS magazine (http://english.slss.ie/Magazine.html), and Looking at English: Teaching & Learning English in Post-Primary Schools. (See http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/
Since September 2005, two individuals have served as subject co-ordinators for English and formal planning meetings have taken place three to five times a year among about half of the English teachers. By the time of the evaluation, this group of English teachers had prepared draft curriculum content plans for each year group, an inventory of the DVD resources held by individual members of the department, a useful CD for all English teachers gathering together relevant reports, syllabuses, and teacher guidelines. Minutes were being kept of those formal meetings and copies of those minutes were being given to the principal. Items discussed by the subgroup of English teachers during its formal meetings included reviewing state examination results achieved by students, and agreeing a common programme for all aspiring LC higher-level candidates until midterm of fifth year. The teachers who engaged in this process are commended for this work.
The main deficiency in the subject department planning work completed in Coláiste Mhichíl to date is that the entire team of teachers involved in teaching mainstream English did not participate in the process. All teachers of English in the school had never formally met before the evaluation, due to the timetabling of all planning meetings for subjects at the same time. Given school management’s undertaking to re-organise its subject department planning meeting arrangements and to consider the consolidation of the English team, all individuals teaching the subject should, henceforth, be able to participate in subject department planning for English. Looking toward the future, three main recommendations are given to guide the English department’s planning.
First, it is recommended that the subject department further develop its curriculum content plans into schemes of work, starting with the plan for first years. At the outset, the department should identify what it considers the most appropriate learning outcomes (knowledge, skills, and attitudes) for students in each year group. (See the LC English syllabus and JCSP statement materials for exemplars of such learning outcomes). To guide teachers’ selection of literary texts for use with particular cohorts, it is recommended that the titles of texts that have worked well with different class and year groups be compiled, that readability indices be applied to them to determine the minimum reading age required to read through those individual texts, and that teachers familiarise themselves with the range of reading ages in their classes, to help them pick appropriate texts for their class cohorts. Equally, schemes of work should set out explicitly how, in the course of each year, teachers will incrementally hone students’ writing skills (by developing their pre-writing, drafting, proofing, editing, and modelling strategies; by widening their vocabularies; and by developing their spelling, punctuation, and paragraphing competencies), reading skills (by teaching skimming, scanning, and other word and text-attack techniques, library layout and usage, dictionary and thesaurus usage and so on), and oral communication skills. Once the first-year scheme units and their sequencing are agreed, the same process should then be employed, over the coming years, to prepare schemes of work for the other year groups. Such re-visioning of the department’s existing curriculum content plans will result in a more incremental, consistently-reinforced English learning experience. The resultant schemes of work will also act as a roadmap for teachers providing literacy support to students in different year groups and for teachers assigned to teach classes in the middle of the junior or senior cycle. Of course, for students to have the full benefit of this work, coherence between teachers’ individual plans and the collective department plan will be essential. Teachers’ individual plans for English will constitute an important foundation for, and aid to, this work.
Secondly, it is recommended that the department formally document the methodological strategies its members find most effective for student learning and supplement them with new strategies through group sharing of current practice and through research, where necessary. Handouts from professional development courses and copies of teaching strategies and resources being used by the learning-support and resource team could also be included in this section, if considered relevant. Where the department identifies a gap in its own methodological or resource repertoire, the continuing professional development resources and support services identified in this report will be very helpful.
Thirdly, it is recommended that an assessment section be developed in the subject department plan, in line with the advice in the last section of this report.
Consequently, over the coming years, the subject department plan for English should bring together year-group schemes, methodological strategies and resources, assessment approaches and practices, a list of the resources available in the school to support the teaching and learning of English, agenda and minutes of subject department meetings, and so on. Ultimately, what is envisaged is a planning process guided by the advice on best practice outlined on pages 50 to 51 of Looking at English and customised to the needs of the students of Coláiste Mhichíl. Such subject planning will not only support the teaching and learning of English, but it will also support the process of school planning.
The current TY English programme incorporates the following elements: the study of a novel, a play, and poetry; language development and writing activities; a trip to a poetry reading and to a theatrical production; and a public speaking unit. Strengths of the programme include its exposure of students to a variety of genres, its co-curricular trips, and its commitment to linking writing and language development activities with students’ TY experiences and with unfolding current events. Two suggestions are offered to further develop the programme. First, it is encouraged that the TY programme for English be reviewed by the entire subject department, to ensure that all teachers of English are aware of the content of the programme and are able to contribute to its continued development. Secondly, it is suggested that projects could be introduced as an element of the TY English programme, to promote the purposeful integration of independent learning, research and presentation skills. Lastly, the department may also find the TY Support Service’s suggestions for TY English programmes (http://ty.slss.ie/areas_study.html) and the article “The Teaching of English in Transition Year: Some Thoughts” helpful in this regard (Teaching English magazine, Spring 2006, pgs. 11-12).
In terms of individual teacher planning, some weekly, termly, and or yearly plans and accompanying resource folders and materials were presented for inspection. The best of them included evidence that teachers were recording brief reflective notes on how lessons could be improved/extended; selecting and evaluating learning targets for individual class groups; and identifying teaching strategies, resources, and assessment procedures for lessons. Such careful preparation shows great dedication and zeal. Where weaknesses were noted, the emphasis in plans was solely on the content to be delivered rather than on the learning to be achieved.
[Planning, preparation, and provision of literacy and language support in Coláiste Mhichíl are discussed in the main WSE report.]
In all classes evaluated, lessons were structured and there was evidence of short-term planning. While all lessons observed were focused on a particular objective, that objective was primarily defined in terms of progressing through a text in some classes. Best practice is when lessons are planned to serve specific learning outcomes and when those learning outcomes are shared at the outset of the lesson with learners, helping them to connect new learning with previous work and also inviting them to share responsibility for the lesson.
All teachers acted as strong oral language role models for students. Teachers’ instructions and explanations were precise in almost all classes observed. The content being taught in classes was appropriate in almost all classes. In the minority of classes where content was not appropriate, this was due to a mismatch of texts with students’ literacy levels and/or with their levels of familiarity with complex cultural contexts underpinning the specific texts. It is recommended that the collaborative review and agreement of appropriate text selections for different year and class groups be adopted as a priority area for future subject planning by the English department.
The resources used by the English teachers over the course of the evaluation included handouts, textbooks, white and blackboards, print stimulus materials (cartoons and illustrations), film clips, dictionaries, and overhead projector transparencies. It was also reported that a few teachers use audio clips to support their teaching of texts. Little evidence of the use of ICT to support the teaching and learning of English was gathered. Given the wide variety of learning styles and of student abilities in the school, it is recommended that even more audio-visual stimuli and concrete artefacts (such as the use of props associated with texts as discussion and revision aids) be utilised in the teaching of English. In particular, CDs/audiotapes of play productions and of poems being read by their authors, and film clips are recommended. Also, given the expertise in using ICT in the teaching of English that exists in the department, it is suggested that adding key websites, sample handouts, visual aids and so on to the subject department’s resource CD would also be very helpful.
Some varied uses of the board/OHP were observed over the course of the evaluation, including modelling the organisation of students’ memories of a school trip, the consistent pre-writing of each class topic and homework assignment on the board, recording new keywords encountered in texts and students’ descriptions of particular characters, and the use of coloured markers to separate headings from associated points on the whiteboard. These are sound educational practices and are commended. Also, it is acknowledged that some teachers use handouts to provide written reinforcement of some aspects of students’ English courses. However, more written reinforcement of new vocabulary, grammatical and syntactical features and of pre-writing and writing strategies is essential for the incremental development of students’ English language skills. Hence, it is recommended that the board/OHP be used more consistently across the department to record keywords and key concepts, to provide students with a variety of writing frames, and to model the use of those frames for different purposes, and to set homework assignments. Finally, the requirement that students transcribe board work into their copies will provide them with an invaluable revision aid.
All teachers used questioning to good effect to stimulate and interact with students and to structure the learning activity. Their questioning styles varied from whole-class questioning to a mix of directed and open questioning. Where best practice was observed, questions were carefully sequenced and graduated, leading students to higher-order thinking and encouraging them to make personal aesthetic responses. One other example of best practice observed was when a teacher set questions to guide students’ listening before the performance of a play extract. Setting those directional questions ensured that students’ comprehension efforts were guided by a purpose derived from the lesson’s desired learning outcome(s). Hence, it is advised that the setting of questions to direct students’ viewing/reading/listening to texts be adopted by the entire department.
Direct whole-class presentations of content by teachers and the questioning of students were the main teaching methodologies observed. Other strategies used less frequently included teacher and student reading, group work, brainstorming, in-class writing, and building on students’ prior knowledge. For instance, one teacher used students’ familiarity with regional accents to help them gain a stronger sense of two characters and of their contrasting educational and socio-economic levels. Evidence was also gathered of the use of prediction, cloze tests, project, and communicative strategies. As outlined in the second section of this report, it is recommended that the English department pool its teaching resources and professional expertise as part of the subject department planning process, to ensure that all students get the benefit of the pedagogical practices being used in individual classrooms.
In terms of identifying pedagogical areas for further development across the department, the following three recommendations are offered. First, the department should further develop its resources and strategies in relation to teaching the process and sub skills of writing. Some of the examples of best practice already taking place in individual classrooms include engaging in “Make a Book” projects, linking writing tasks with real-life purposes, and helping students develop their ability to control narratives using “write the ending” and “sequence these sentences/paragraphs” activities. Areas for development in the department’s practice include more creative modelling, creative interventions, the teaching of aspects of sentence and paragraph structure through exemplars from texts students are reading, and the use of ICT to reinforce the process approach to writing. Secondly, it is recommended that the learning-support teacher be asked to brief the English department on appropriate print and software resources to support the development of students’ skills in English. Thirdly, it is recommended that the English department seek in-service on differentiation. Possible sources of such professional development include the Second Level Support Service (SLSS), the Special Education Support Service (SESS), and or the distance learning course provider ICEP. (See www.slss.ie, www.sess.ie. and http://www.icepe.eu/inclusive_classroom.html).
Good rapport between teachers and students was evident in all classrooms visited. Teachers consistently affirmed students’ responses and integrated them into lessons. While intermittent lapses in the general standard of student behaviour were observed in a few classrooms, discipline was maintained in all classes. Almost all students observed were engaged in their learning. In the one class where students had not made adequate progress in their course, it was reported that issues of student motivation and of the transfer of classes to a new teacher mid-cycle were involved. Oral questioning by teachers and by the inspector demonstrated that almost all students were familiar with the elements of texts they were studying. Some students were engaging in higher-order thinking about those texts, spontaneously asking their teacher perceptive questions about them, and offering original comparative connections to texts previously studied. Evidence was also gathered of a few English teachers’ use of strategies aimed at explicitly promoting student learning. For example, the practice of one teacher is to give junior cycle students spelling tests each week and to send “merit awards” home to the three students with the highest cumulative spelling scores at specified intervals. Similarly, another teacher plans and evaluates weekly literacy development targets for students. An examination of students’ copies revealed that students’ written work primarily consisted of language development/ grammatical exercises disconnected from the literary texts being studied and exercises aimed at reinforcing textual understanding. Consequently, to further improve the level of students’ skill development, it is essential that the whole-school issues identified in the first section of this report as impacting on learning be addressed by school management in consultation with the English subject department; that the subject department explicitly plan for the incremental development of the students’ language skills in all year-group schemes of work; and that departmental assessment practices be further developed, as outlined in the next section.
In all classes observed, teachers had made efforts to create motivational print-rich environments to support their teaching of English. The English-related resources displayed in rooms included a mixture of commercially-produced posters, a sample of students’ written work, and student illustrations of studied texts. Other visual aids teachers may wish to develop and display in their classrooms might be posters featuring key words associated with genres, key quotations from plays, posters featuring photographs and timelines of studied poets, and so on. The department is commended for striving to provide motivational print-rich environments for its students
A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student competence and progress in English including oral questioning, written assignments, and formal examinations. Additional assessment practices are also used by individual members of the department. For example, one teacher accepts homework from a student on cassette tape, to help him prepare for State examinations where he has been granted this reasonable accommodation by the SEC. Likewise, some teachers use assessments as diagnostic instruments, identifying common errors in students’ corrected essays and then designing follow-up lessons to address those errors. One teacher surveys graduating LC students to find out the most significant things they learned in their English classes, the problems they encountered in their study of English, and their suggestions for improving future English classes. Furthermore, one teacher comments on the effort students invest in completing tasks (as well as on their achievements), thus feeding their motivation to learn. Moreover, it was reported that a few teachers involve students in peer assessment by asking them to evaluate exemplars of student writing, either from chief examiners’ reports, from other print sources or from past students. Such assessment practices are highly commended and it is recommended that they be incorporated into the department’s collective assessment practices. (To deepen students’ understanding of the criteria for assessment, teachers may find it useful to distribute the “Assessment Advice for Students” document that was issued at the time of the Leaving Certificate English syllabus launch. See http://english.slss.ie/resources/Assessment_
Advice_Students.pdf. Also, the grid explaining the criteria for assessment that was issued as Appendix 1 to the LC English syllabus materials could be adapted and used as a classroom poster.)
In formulating its common approach to assessment, the department is advised to consider the following. First, it is encouraged that teachers assign class time early in the first term of every year for students to produce a substantial personal writing sample. Using those samples diagnostically (that is, analysing and recording the recurring errors in each student’s work) would give the teacher a good benchmark for skill development programme planning. This will be particularly helpful where teachers are taking on a class group for the first time. Clearly, additional information such as students’ results in prior house exams, their SEC results (if available), and or their reading ages would further strengthen the evidence base for teacher planning. Secondly, it is suggested that the department consider awarding some marks toward end-of-term results for tasks linked to the agreed learning outcomes for different year groups. (Those tasks could include spelling and vocabulary tests, a cumulative average for composition work, folder maintenance, oral presentations and project work). Such student-centred assessment approaches would help all students. Thirdly, it is recommended that the English department agree its assessment expectations (types and amounts of homework assignments, number of essays per year, standards of presentation in copies, common copy and folder systems of organisation to aid student revision at the end of junior/senior cycles of study.) as part of the subject department planning process.
A number of the classes observed began with a review of homework or of work done in a previous class, thus maximising the chances that students would retain their new learning. In a few classes observed, homework assignments were written on the board for students to note down. Otherwise, teachers called out homework assignments orally at the end of class. It is recommended that teachers write such assignments on the board/OHP to ensure that all students copy down their assignment. This practice will be of particular benefit to students who are less academically inclined, and who tend not to remember homework tasks set orally. It will also serve as a reporting mechanism to parents that homework is being regularly set. Teachers may even wish to write homework assignments on the board at the beginning of class, as a reminder to themselves of the task they want to set to reinforce class work. (This practice was observed in one classroom during the evaluation). Specific instructions should be given to students on how homework is to be presented and on the criteria that work should meet (page length, number of points and quotations required). Students should be questioned after transcribing their assignments to ensure they understand their tasks. Finally, teachers should differentiate homework assignments to ensure that all students in a class are challenged to achieve to their potential. (This is already the practice among a few of the English teachers).
From a review of student copies, it was evident that homework was being set and monitored in all classes. (Though a minor point, teachers should avoid correcting student work in the same colour ink used by students, as the corrections can be difficult to decipher). In some cases, students’ work was acknowledged by a tick and short comment (very good/excellent). In other cases, the teacher comment offered developmental feedback that affirmed the strengths in the piece of writing and gave concrete ideas for improvement and this is commended. The department is encouraged to discuss this issue and to arrive at a consensus on it, so that teachers’ responses to students’ writing are consistent from first to sixth year. In arriving at a common policy on the correction of mechanical errors and on the provision of developmental feedback on substantial pieces of writing, the department may find materials such as the NCCA’s “Assessment for Learning” web pages, the JCSP publication Between the Lines, and the relevant section of Inclusive Dyslexia-Friendly Practice useful. (See http://www.sess.ie/sess/Files/Dyslexia_
The English teachers are commended for embracing the concept of common examinations for class cohorts/ year groups and it is hoped that they will extend this practice in time. For example, reading comprehension and unseen poem sections can be common. Where different text choices have been made, generic questions can be set. Common criteria of assessment can be agreed. Such practices facilitate comparison of attainment across year groups, thus providing an evidence base for planning to meet students’ needs.
In relation to the fifth-year, midterm examination designed to guide all students aspiring to sitting LC higher-level English examinations to the appropriate level of senior cycle study, it will be important to ensure that the target group for this examination is clearly defined in the subject department plan. Otherwise, candidates unsuited to the higher-level course may end up studying material that is inappropriate for their intended level of examination preparation, as was the case in one class visited.
First and second-year students are assessed using class tests and formal Christmas and summer examinations. Third and sixth-year students are assessed using a formal Christmas examination and a pre-certificate examination in the spring. Fifth-year students are assessed using a common midterm examination and formal examinations at Christmas and summer. TY students are assessed using a formal Christmas examination and an informal summer one. Some teachers use SEC chief examiners’ reports and marking schemes to inform their work and an analysis of students’ LC results is conducted periodically by a member of the subject department. (Similarly, students’ JC results should also be compared to national norms). This is best practice. Parents/guardians are informed of students’ progress through school reports, annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group, phone calls/correspondence by individual teachers, and individual meetings (either requested by parents/guardians or where parents/guardians are invited to the school to discuss a student’s progress).
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· School management is commended for its teacher-based classroom policy, for providing concurrent timetabling to facilitate student movement for senior cycle English students, and for making funds available for the purchase of resources on request.
· School management is commended for supporting teachers’ individual professional development and for recognising the importance of subject department planning.
· The English teachers and school management are highly commended for the English-related co-curricular and extra-curricular activities they routinely arrange for students.
· A subgroup of English teachers has been engaging in collaborative subject planning since September 2005, resulting in the preparation of curriculum content plans for each year group, a resource CD for English teachers, the recording of minutes of meetings, and decision-making on aspects of the school’s mainstream English provision.
· In all lessons evaluated, lessons were structured and there was evidence of short-term planning. Also, some weekly, termly, and or yearly plans and accompanying resource folders and materials were presented for inspection.
· Some varied teaching methodologies were observed and all teachers used questioning to good effect.
· Good rapport between teachers and students was evident in all classrooms visited. Teachers consistently affirmed students’ responses and integrated them into lessons. While intermittent lapses in the general standard of student behaviour were observed in a few classrooms, discipline was maintained in all classes. Almost all students observed were engaged in their learning.
· In all classes observed, teachers had made efforts to create motivational print-rich environments to support their teaching of English.
· A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student competence and progress in English. From a review of student copies, it was evident that homework was being set and monitored in all classes.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· To support all students’ efforts to achieve to their full potential in English, school management should review its practices in relation to staff deployment, student organisation, and timetabling.
· Collaborative planning by all teachers of English should be promoted by school management and the subject department plan should be developed in line with the advice in this report.
· Over the coming years, the English department should pool its teaching strategies and resources, adding to that repertoire through continuous professional development where necessary. In particular, the department should strengthen its capacity to develop students’ language skills, to differentiate for learners’ needs within class groups, and to integrate a wider range of audio-visual and concrete stimuli into lessons.
· The English department should agree and document a common approach to assessment, including the provision of developmental feedback on students’ work, teachers’ assessment expectations for student work, and the diagnostic use of assessment to meet students’ needs.
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.