An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Loreto Secondary School
Clonmel, County Tipperary
Roll number: 65330M
Date of inspection: 6 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Secondary School, Clonmel. 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Loreto Secondary School is an all-girls’ school. Classes in first year have four English lessons per week. This is adequate. If practicable, within the necessary constraints of the timetabling process, it is suggested that this might profitably be expanded to five lessons per week. Classes in second year, third year, fifth year and sixth year have five English lessons per week each. This is good provision. Transition Year (TY) classes are provided with three English lessons per week. This is adequate. TY classes have a double lesson on Tuesdays and one further English lesson on Wednesdays. The placing of two English lessons on the same day was organised in order to facilitate TY lessons with a Poetry Ireland writer in residence. However, as a consequence, difficulties have been encountered in ensuring consistent class contact in English for TY students. This has been recognised and the situation will be adjusted in the next academic year. This is positive. English classes generally retain their teachers from first year to third year and from fifth year to sixth year. This is worthwhile. There is rotation of teachers between levels and cycles, where practicable, and this is noted in the English department’s policy document. This is good practice.
Classes in junior cycle are of mixed ability. All students study the higher level junior cycle course until third year, when a number may be advised to attempt the ordinary level examination paper on the basis of teacher observations. Students with literacy support needs are identified through liaison with their primary schools and assessment tests which are administered prior to entry. Parents are also consulted and further assessments are conducted in October of first year. Mainstream subject teachers’ observations may also be used to identify students in need of literacy support. These arrangements are worthwhile. Students are advised with regard to levels in senior cycle on the basis of their performance in the Junior Certificate examination. In addition, students’ performances in TY may, in some cases, be taken into account. Classes in TY, fifth year and sixth year are concurrently timetabled. This is positive, allowing for ease of student movement between classes or levels, should this prove to be necessary. The school has a formal procedure should a student wish to change level, which involves consultation between parents, students and teachers.
A number of English teachers have been assigned baserooms. This is positive. An additional feature of the school is the naming of English baserooms after famous Irish writers. There is good access to audio-visual facilities for English teachers. This is worthwhile, given the importance of film in the Leaving Certificate syllabus, along with the positive impact that the judicious use of audio-visual materials can make in junior cycle or TY lessons. The English department is also planning to collect audio recordings of various texts in the near future. This is praiseworthy as such recordings can serve to focus students’ attention on the spoken, and written, word. In addition, there is a centralised audio-visual resource area for English teachers’ use in the staffroom. This is good practice.
The school is currently investing in a new library, along with reading rooms, in a building close to the main school. The fact that the school will have a space solely dedicated to providing library services is a most positive development. A student library committee and a staff co-ordinator are involved in providing library services. The library committee opens the library for students’ use at lunchtime. During the evaluation the engagement of students with reading was exemplified by a display for World Book Day at the entrance to the school. This included lists of students’ favourite books and posters on reading, along with library opening hours in Polish and English. First year students have contributed suggestions regarding book choice for the library. This is positive. In addition, book boxes have been used by teachers in the past as a means of encouraging students’ reading. TY students have been involved in a reading programme with primary school pupils and this has led to the anticipated development of a paired reading programme between TY and first-year students in the near future. This is worthwhile and to be encouraged. Students have also participated in readathons and have attended readings by noted authors. The English department’s approach to encouraging student reading is set out in an ‘English Literacy Policy’ which is appropriately concise and action-orientated. The department is to be praised for all of these initiatives and is encouraged to continue to develop students’ appreciation of reading for pleasure once the new library is available for use. A resource which is worthy of investigation is the website www.jcspliteracy.ie. This contains an evaluation report of the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) Demonstration Library Project. The report contains various strategies which may be useful in further developing students’ love of reading.
There is a multi-media room and a computer room. All classrooms are connected for broadband internet access. English teachers use information and communications technology (ICT) as a resource and for research. The English department has begun to compile a list of internet websites which are relevant to the subject. This latter project should continue and might even contribute to the creation of an English ‘favourites’ list on the school network through use of an ‘English’ folder. In addition, students sometimes use ICT in typing out exercises in connection with the subject. All of this is worthwhile. It is recommended that the English department should continue to develop its use of ICT in the teaching of the subject, within the necessary constraints of available resources. Further ideas which may be of use in this regard are the adoption of webquests as a guide for students’ genre exercises and the use of wordprocessing as an aid to students’ appreciation of the drafting and redrafting process. In addition, the usefulness of a data projector to the teaching of English may be worth investigating, resources permitting.
New members of the English department are provided with a handbook for new teachers as an aid to their induction. They also attend subject department meetings and take part in an induction day for teachers in Loreto schools. This formal induction of new teachers is good practice. It is suggested that, as a further development, subject-induction procedures could also be set down in the subject plan. These could include the assigning of a departmental contact for new teachers and guidance towards subject resources. Ultimately, induction should include familiarising new teachers with the subject plan. This should serve as a key introduction to the very good practice in the teaching of English which is evident in the school.
The school is supportive of English teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD). English teachers have participated in a range of CPD opportunities in the last number of years including poetry readings, work on creative writing and a short story workshop. This is worthwhile. The English department also maintains links with its subject association. English teachers try to bring resources from inservice training courses they have attended back to colleagues. Again, this is worthwhile and is a practice which is worth formalising through the subject plan.
There is a subject co-ordinator for English. The co-ordinator is appointed on the basis of seniority and takes responsibility for organising departmental meetings, distributing relevant information, organising relevant school trips, correspondence, co-ordinating texts and facilitating the drafting of the English policy. The role is formally defined in the English policy. There are regular meetings of the English department. Formal meetings are facilitated once per term by senior management and minutes are taken of these meetings. These minutes are stored in the subject folder. This is worthwhile and these records should be viewed as a means of tracking advances made over time in the teaching and learning of the subject and as an important element in affirmation and review for the department. In addition, there are frequent informal meetings of English teachers as the need arises. The English department has been diligent in gathering material relevant to the subject in a number of folders. Among the relevant documents gathered are the Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate syllabuses, the English department policy, current circulars relevant to the teaching of the subject and the Department of Education and Science (DES) publication Looking at English: Teaching and Learning English in Post-Primary Schools. Ensuring the accessibility of important documents for the benefit of the entire subject department in this manner is good practice.
As previously intimated, an English plan has been developed. Considerable dedication has been shown by the English department in the creation of common plans, with the aid of ICT. This is commendable. The plans are syllabus-based and incorporate a ‘ticking’ system which teachers fill in as they cover particular topics. As a further extension of this approach to common planning, the subject department should explore the incorporation of time-linked plans with learning goals into the plan. A worthwhile model which could be utilised in this endeavour is the Draft Rebalanced English Syllabus for junior cycle which is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie. Time-linked plans with learning goals would facilitate the setting of common assessments in year groups, while reducing the need for teachers to continually note their progress through written reference to the subject plan. This suggestion is made with an acknowledgement that the current system is reported to have worked well up to this point and should be viewed as no more than a possible further refinement of that system. The exploration of language elements of the syllabuses in connection with some literary texts is also highlighted in the plan. This is worthwhile and the continued expansion of this integrated approach to the syllabuses through the subject plan is to be encouraged. Overall student performance in the certificate examinations is analysed against national norms and this is positive. An area which may be worth exploring through the subject planning process is the previous experiences of new first year students with the subject. The primary curriculum and teacher guidelines for English may be of service in this regards and can be accessed at www.curriculumonline.ie.
English teachers are involved in organising a wide range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. These include drama, debating and public speaking, along with Poetry Ireland workshops, writing competitions and various trips to the theatre. All of this is very supportive of the teaching and learning of English.
Texts are varied in junior cycle and in senior cycle. This is positive and teachers are encouraged to continue to ensure that students experience a wide range of texts and genres which reflects their interests and experiences, within syllabus requirements. Teachers collaborate in choosing texts in senior cycle, while allowing for individual teachers’ preferences in some instances. A useful resource to support text choice in junior cycle may be accessed at www.childrensbooksireland.com. It is suggested that the need for some synchronicity between the study of higher level and ordinary level poetry in senior cycle should be briefly recognised and set down in the subject plan. This would ensure ease of movement, where necessary, between levels. It is important to note, however, that this suggestion is made to encourage the formalisation of good practice which is already present in the department.
There is a subject-specific programme for English in the TY programme. Teachers plan to revise the TY English programme next year. This is positive and it is suggested that a focus on learning outcomes to be achieved as a result of participation in the course would be useful. Here again, the Draft Rebalanced English Syllabus for junior cycle may be of use as an organisational model. A portfolio is produced as a result of students’ studies in TY and this feeds into the evaluation of their year’s work in English. Such a portfolio is most worthwhile and should be viewed as a ‘centre of excellence’ for students’ writing. Cross-curricular links which have been pursued between English and other subjects in TY are to be praised.
There are good links between the English department and the learning-support department. English teachers have developed individual plans for students with special educational needs. This is most worthwhile. There is a qualified learning support teacher. There is a learning-support room which has a well-developed print-rich environment. Other rooms are also used to provide learning support for students. Students are withdrawn from classes on an individual or group basis for literacy support. It is suggested that a further extension of this model of support could be investigated through the development of cooperative teaching as a strategy, where suitable. Literacy support students are retested on a regular basis to assess their progress. The school is currently in the process of developing a special educational needs policy. This is positive and the use of the recent Department of Education and Science (DES) Inspectorate publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs: Post-Primary Guidelines to inform the development of the policy is to be encouraged. Further training for English teachers in the area of special educational needs can be accessed through the website of the Special Education Support Service (SESS) at www.sess.ie.
A very good standard of teaching and learning was observed during the evaluation. Objectives were clear in all lessons and were often stated to students or noted on the blackboard. As a further extension of this good practice, the outlining of a learning goal at the beginning of each lesson could be adopted across the department. In all cases there was evidence of planning for individual lessons. Beyond this, there were numerous examples of resources having been built up over time to support teaching and learning in English, along with teachers’ own long-term planning. Particularly good practice was seen in one instance where a lesson had been planned based on students’ own identification of areas where they were experiencing difficulty. This was impressive, incorporating an assessment for learning (AfL) approach to the subject. Pacing was generally well managed in lessons. Occasional suggestions regarding the usefulness of active methodologies as a tool in shifting the pace of a lesson were made during the evaluation, but these were minor in nature.
A wide range of resources was used in English lessons. These included the blackboard, photocopies, the overhead projector, projected illustrations, a CD player and a drum. The English department is to be commended for its imaginative approach in seeking to support students’ learning in and engagement with the subject. It is planned to place dictionaries as an essential element on students’ booklists. This is worthwhile. Beyond this, classroom dictionaries are kept in English rooms. This is sound practice and the English department’s awareness of the importance of the use of a dictionary and thesaurus in students’ classwork and homework is both applauded and strongly encouraged.
Lessons generally began with the taking of the roll, which is good practice. This was often followed by a recapitulation of work previously covered or of the previous night’s homework. Question and answer sessions were frequently used as a focus for this recapitulation and questioning was a very common strategy employed throughout lessons. Isolated comments regarding the occasional need for more use of directed questioning, higher-order questions and the consolidation of student contributions in response to questioning were made during the evaluation. However, overall, teachers’ use of questioning was very effective and significantly added to students’ educational experiences.
A number of approaches towards the reading of texts were adopted during lessons including pre-reading discussions, teacher readings, choral readings, the playing of recorded versions of texts and the adoption of characters’ personae on the part of students. All of this was worthwhile and the use of such varied strategies is to be encouraged. In addition, students’ engagement and comprehension of texts was frequently the focus of teachers’ planning with text-marking, guided reading and comprehension questions all featuring during or immediately following initial examination of a film, drama or poem. Indeed, the use of DARTS (Directed Activities Related to Texts) was a very positive feature in a number of lessons. In some lessons, greater attention to the encouragement of personal response to a piece on the part of students immediately following an initial reading would have been of benefit.
The use of pair work, group work and other active methodologies was a regular feature of English lessons. In one instance, sheets were distributed to students to work on in pairs in identifying aspects of a poem which appealed to them. This worked well. In another lesson, students were divided into groups to discuss how they would go about directing a particular scene. Each group’s comments were noted on sheets which were then collected and presented to the class by the teacher. This served to consolidate the work done in class. A further extension of this good practice would be the placing of an even greater emphasis on sharing the reasoning behind each group’s choices. This might be ensured through the assigning of different roles within each group, with one person assigned the responsibility for ascertaining this aspect of the group’s work and reporting on it. The English department is to be complimented on its use of active methodologies in support of differentiation in class groups and is encouraged to continue to expand its use of these strategies, where appropriate.
There was a strong focus on language in most lessons. In one instance, the shape of a poem was highlighted for students, while in another lesson, the playing of a popular song led to students being asked what aspects of the language they liked or found interesting. This approach worked well, not alone because of the astute choice of text on the part of the teacher, but also due to the focus on students’ personal responses which was a feature of the lesson. As a further extension of this, already effective, endeavour, it is suggested that students could be asked to further develop the reasons behind the particular choices they made. Overall the level of awareness displayed by English teachers of the need to highlight aspects of language in texts is to be praised.
There was a very good relationship between teachers and students. Classroom management was good in all cases. In a number of instances, teachers’ enthusiasm for their subject was reflected in students’ responses to the work being undertaken. Students were attentive and engaged in lessons. When questioned, they displayed a good understanding of the texts they had studied during the year. During lessons, students, variously, took notes diligently, displayed personal engagement with the texts being explored and contributed readily to class work.
There was evidence of the development of a print-rich environment in English teachers’ baserooms. This is positive. In many rooms, student work, character diagrams, keywords and examples of various written genres were displayed. Particularly inventive practice was evident where hand-drawn ‘BEBO’ pages for Romeo and Juliet were displayed and Valentine cards were set out. This approach was most beneficial as a means of highlighting the importance of audience for students, along with the need for a drafting and redrafting process when creating any piece of writing. The English department is encouraged to further expand the use of a print-rich environment to support teaching and learning in English. The strategy should be set out in the subject plan as a key aspect of the culture of English teaching in the school.
There is a homework policy. Homework was regularly assigned and corrected with frequent evidence of students completing significant written pieces. This was appropriate. In a number of instances, this approach was aided through the use of A4 copybooks to emphasise the importance of exercises where students were expected to exert a particularly special effort. In addition, this focused students who would soon be participating in the certificate examinations on the quantity and quality of work that they would be expected to produce in that context. The adoption of A4 copybooks in other class contexts may also be worthy of consideration. In TY, the use of portfolios which were developed around a set number of major genre exercises was good practice. The use of ICT in TY to redraft exercises was also very positive. The impact of ICT in this area could be enhanced still further through the incorporation of relevant illustrations and photographs with written exercises. This could add to the sense of ‘publication’ associated with students’ portfolios for English.
There was evidence of some integration of the language and literature elements of the syllabuses in almost all cases. In a number of classes, an imaginative approach towards the use of this strategy had been adopted, as when students had developed the ‘Verona Times’ to link in with their study of Romeo and Juliet. It is recommended that the English department should continue to expand its use of an integrated approach to language and literature. Thus, the study of literature should act as a springboard to the study of language and vice versa, while reading, writing, speaking and listening should be viewed as an integrated whole reinforcing each other both inside and outside of the classroom.
Formative, comment-based assessment of students’ written work was used in all cases. In a number of instances, this was of an extremely high quality, suggesting great dedication on the part of teachers. A positive feature in one senior cycle class was the sharing of the criteria for the certificate examinations with students. The English department is encouraged to continue to develop and expand this aspect of its practice, where practicable and within necessary time constraints. As an aid in this endeavour, the adoption and explanation of self-assessment and peer-assessment on the part of students may be worth exploring, where appropriate. Throughout the evaluation, much good work was observed in the area of assessment for learning (AfL) and consequently it is recommended that this should continue to be developed in the English department. This development should, ultimately, be consolidated through the creation of an assessment policy for English which incorporates AfL as a key pillar. Support in this effort can be garnered through the AfL area on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie and from the Second Level Support Service (SLSS).
Class tests are given regularly throughout the year in order to assess students’ progress. Continuous assessment is used to form the basis of students’ Christmas reports. There are formal house examinations at the end of the academic year for first-year, second-year and fifth-year students. Common examinations are set where practicable. This is good practice. Pre-examinations are organised for those students who are to participate in the certificate examinations at the end of the academic year. There is continuous assessment of the work of TY students through the use of class tests and project work. At the end of their year in TY, students are interviewed by two teachers to whom they must present aspects of their work during the year. They are asked a variety of questions by the teachers involved, regarding their presentations, and are awarded marks on this basis. This is a most worthwhile approach. There are common examinations for first-year, second-year and fifth-year students. This is worthwhile, not only as a means of avoiding unnecessary duplication of work between teachers, but also to facilitate the comparison of student achievement across a particular year group.
Parents receive reports regarding students’ progress just after Christmas, following the pre-examinations and following the summer examinations, each year. The Christmas report is based on student assessments conducted during the first term. Parent-teacher meetings are held once per year for each year group. Other parent-teacher contacts may take place through phone calls and through written communications. These arrangements are commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, October 2008