An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Barryscourt Rd, Coolock, Dublin 17
Roll number: 70330Q
Date of inspection: 12 November 2008
report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Dhúlaigh. 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, deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Coláiste Dhúlaigh operates under the auspices of the City of Dublin Vocational Educational Committee (VEC) and participates in the Delivering Equality in Schools (DEIS) programme. The provision of five English lessons each week for class groups in first, second, third, fifth and sixth year is good. Transition Year (TY) class groups have three lessons of English each week which is adequate but not generous provision. The provision of four English and Communication lessons each week for Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students is good. The vast majority of English classes have an even distribution across the week which is good practice.
English teachers state in their planning documents that they aim for as many students as possible to attempt higher level. However, the present manner of student placement militates against this. Students in the school are streamed from entry into first year on the basis of the group reading test administered prior to entry and on information from the feeder primary schools. The school is planning to move to web based testing in the coming year. The school reports that streaming is effective for their cohort of students. However, research demonstrates that streaming has ‘negative consequences on the outcomes of junior cycle’ for a large body of students. A system of streaming is not conducive to increasing numbers doing higher level, nor is it helpful for building students’ self esteem. In addition, a large proportion of the students in the school take foundation level English in the state examinations. This number could be decreased if a different manner of placing students was introduced. As it stands, it was reported that students are moved between class groups if it is found that they have been incorrectly placed but this means that they must be moved for every subject. It is recommended that the school consider a different method of placing students in class groups in junior cycle. Given the cohort of students, setting may be the best option in this school. The system would mean that students could be grouped according to ability for individual subjects. There is no concurrency on the timetable for English at present in either junior or senior cycle. It is strongly recommended that management investigate the possibility of providing such concurrency as this would facilitate movement of students between levels. It must be acknowledged that good practice takes place in that the third- year Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) class group is split between two teachers to give some of the students the opportunity to take ordinary-level English in the state examinations.
Ten teachers currently teach English in the school. Not all of these teachers have a degree in English, although some have or are pursuing courses in special educational needs (SEN). It is recommended that only teachers with a degree in English or relevant qualification, such as SEN if teaching JCSP class groups, be deployed to teach English in the school. In addition, a smaller teaching team with more regular contact with English would be more desirable. Furthermore, currently the same teacher is deployed to teach the top class groups for English. All teachers should be given the opportunity to teach all levels on a rotational basis in order to broaden their experience and also to provide them with a break from teaching lower-ability class groups where the behaviour was observed to often be extremely challenging. Good practice takes place in that school management endeavours to timetable the same teacher with each class group from first year through to third year and from fifth year through to sixth year.
All rooms in the school are broadband enabled. Interactive whiteboards are installed in some classrooms and ICT is sometimes used in teaching SEN students and for the TY ‘magazine’ module. There was evidence that English teachers have access to these rooms. It was reported by the English department, however, that they would like to have more access to information and communication technology (ICT) equipment and more television and DVD equipment and this is an area that should be investigated by senior management. It is recommended that in planning for lessons, the English teachers further explore the many useful websites related to English to access resources for lessons and to enhance their repertoire of teaching methodologies. It was reported that management meets the resource needs of the English department on request. All existing resources are kept centrally in a storage area in one of the teacher’s rooms. It is suggested that an inventory of these be compiled for distribution to all English teachers and that a shared ICT folder for storage of electronic resources be set up on the school’s network.
Drama classes are provided for first, second and TY students which is a commendable development. The school timetables library classes in the very attractive and well-stocked JCSP library in the school and students are also brought to the nearby library. The JCSP library is an excellent resource and it is heartening that it is used frequently in the school. A paired reading programme is also in operation as well as many JCSP initiatives including ‘Readalong’, ‘Spelling Challenge’ and ‘Make a Book’. A Literacy Week is also held in the school. Students are brought on theatre trips to see performances of texts on their courses and students contribute articles to the TY magazine, which is commendable practice.
All teachers in the school have received in-service on SEN and on the JCSP.
There was evidence of students with behavioural difficulties in some classes. In such cases, students were often unruly, used bad language and in an extreme case were out of control. A whole-school approach to managing such behaviour is called for and the whole-school review of the Code of Behaviour currently taking place is therefore to be welcomed.
There is a plan available for English which contains worthy aims for the teaching and learning of English. These include developing students’ personal proficiency in the language, the promotion of key literary skills, the development of speaking and listening skills and the promotion of literacy. As already noted, a long-term aim of the department is for more students to take higher level and it is suggested that the department discuss strategies to achieve this and to reduce the number of students taking foundation level.
The subject plan is currently handwritten. It would be more effective if this plan was produced electronically as changes would be much more easily incorporated after each review without having to rewrite the entire plan. The co-ordination of English has been carried out by the same person for some time now as it was reported by the school that this position is based on seniority. It is suggested that this role be defined and that the position be rotated among all English teachers so that all gain experience of this role. Good practice takes place in that management facilitates meetings on a termly basis and it was reported that teachers often meet together to discuss common issues. Minutes of meetings are recorded. It is recommended that these minutes be passed on to management so that management is able to keep in touch with the concerns and the decisions of the department.
Teachers presented individual plans of their curriculum content. Commendably, there was a strong emphasis on basic skills development in these plans and it was also good to see an emphasis on the development of oral skills in some plans. As well as this, some teachers teach the Junior Certificate course in a thematic way so that topics are linked. This is good practice as it allows students to see English as an integrated whole as opposed to a series of genres taught in isolation. Teachers pursue their own course with their own class group in each year. This means, however, that there is an overlap between some texts. For example, a novel taught in second year is also taught currently in TY. Such situations should be avoided. In addition, where there is a possibility of student movement between classes it is imperative that students are all following the same programme of work. This is currently the case among the SEN class groups.
Most teachers teach a novel in first year and in second year. This is good practice as it generates an interest in reading and improves literacy skills and this practice should be adopted by all first-year English teachers. Some teachers teach two novels in first year which is highly commended. Some mid-stream class groups in second and third year study a film version of a drama text. It is recommended that in all class groups the written version of the drama be taught and that film be used in a supplementary manner. As it stands, third year is mainly a revision year with few new genres introduced. While it is important that work be reinforced in third year, it is recommended that some new material be introduced in this year to add variety and to stimulate the students. The ordinary-level sixth-year class study a Shakespearean text as their single text although many students had not studied Shakespeare in junior cycle. In some cases, the texts taught for Junior Certificate were not sufficiently challenging to prepare students for Leaving Certificate. In particular, the content of the lower-ability class groups’ programme of work in junior cycle needs to be more challenging. It is recommended that English teachers examine the programme for English as a continuum from first year through to sixth year to ensure that the skills and content of the junior cycle programme are challenging enough to prepare students for the greater challenges of Leaving Certificate. All genres should be taught in each year of junior cycle in all class groups. Therefore, it is recommended that the key skills or learning outcomes that each year of junior cycle should achieve be expanded so that there is a clear sense of an incremental approach to learning. The NCCA’s rebalanced ‘Draft syllabus for Junior Certificate English’ which outlines such learning outcomes should help in this regard.
There is a large cohort of students in the school in receipt of resource teaching or in receipt of behavioural support. There is good communication reported between the SEN and mainstream teachers and there is good planning among the SEN team. JCSP students complete relevant statements on English and on the use of the library which is commended. SEN students are withdrawn from English lessons for particular support in English. This practice should be reviewed as students need extra support in English as opposed to receiving specialist support at the same time as English. Students are withdrawn in small groups for extra support and sometimes support is delivered in-class with co-teaching taking place. This is commended. It is also commended that many teachers in the school have learning support or SEN qualifications and, as already stated, many are doing courses in these areas. It was clear that SEN students are well profiled and individual education plans are available for these students. SEN students are retested to ascertain improvements in standards of literacy as part of the JCSP Library Demonstration Project and this is good practice.
At the time of the inspection, there was no evidence of a common TY programme available. It is recommended that the Transition Year English plan be written in accordance with the Department and Education and Science publication: Transition Year Programmes, Guidelines for Schools. There was evidence of good work taking place in individual TY classes. For example, the theme of childhood is explored through a range of texts by one group and very good work in relation to the studied novel was taking place in another group observed. It was heartening to see a solid programme of work in LCA English and Communication where students are challenged by the study of a novel and film.
The good practice of sharing the learning outcome with the class group was observed in most lessons and best practice occurred when this was written on the board. To develop this good practice, it is suggested that the final few minutes of the lesson be devoted to ensuring that this learning outcome has been achieved. There were some examples of good recapping on the previous day’s work to put the current lesson in context. When links between texts and the students’ own lives or the contemporary world were created, this also put learning in perspective for the students and made the content of the lesson more accessible. In addition, supplementary material, such as cloze tests and other effective worksheets, was used to good effect for consolidating learning. Students were generally diligent at recording what was written on the board and in all instances very good use of the board by teachers was observed.
Where there was a secure learning environment, students participated well and in these instances pair work and group work worked well. In others instances, such co-operative learning methods did not work as the students were badly behaved and demonstrated a lack of respect for the adults in the room. In such an instance, because of the distraction of the students, explanations were not clear and the teacher’s input into the lesson was rushed. As noted before, a whole-school approach to such indiscipline is urgently needed. In addition, teachers need to establish clear and consistent rules about behaviour in each classroom and rigorously follow up on misbehaviour. Students should not be put out of class without a safe place for them to go. Where a secure learning environment was established learning took place and this was evident in many lessons. These lessons resulted in good student participation and discussion which brought the text to life for the students.
Good practice took place when vocabulary was pre-taught before the studied text was presented to the students. It is suggested that when a poem is introduced to students it be read by or to the students more than once before inviting their initial response.
Some very good examples of high expectations set by teachers were observed where students were challenged and rose to the occasion, and this was seen in classes of all abilities. For example, in a TY class visited some of the students had not studied a novel before but were proving well able to negotiate the studied novel in TY. In addition, students in the ordinary-level senior cycle class groups were introduced to a range of challenging concepts in an accessible manner and so were able to understand and discuss these concepts. In other instances, however, the opposite occurred and the work was not sufficiently challenging for the students. It is important that in all classes, no matter what the student ability, the work is suitably challenging. In addition, it was noted that in many lessons the pace of the lessons was appropriate although in some instances it was found to be too slow. Best practice was seen when time was fully used in the lesson. It is important that the course designed for each class group is suitably engaging, challenging and paced.
Teachers were affirming of students’ efforts and showed great care for their students. Individual attention was given where necessary and this proved essential during each lesson to ensure that students were kept on task.
Instances of best practice in questioning occurred when the teachers asked a range of lower-order and higher-order questions to cater for the range of abilities in the classroom and to challenge the better able students. In some instances, the teacher asked for ‘hands up’ or asked general questions of the entire class. It is recommended that the teachers ask named questions of the students to ensure that all are on task. A good instance of brainstorming students on the events in the studied text was observed which led to good class participation.
The standard of students’ copies varied widely. It was heartening to see the focus on students’ personal response to texts in senior cycle copies. In addition, there was evidence of the integration of language and literature in some copies which is a very good strategy for linking genres. In other instances, it was evident that the students needed to be set more challenging writing tasks in a range of genre including longer writing tasks.
First-year classrooms are student based and in other years the classrooms are teacher based. In just two instances there was evidence of samples of students’ work on display in classrooms or of a stimulating print-rich environment. It is recommended that students be surrounded by a print-rich environment in their classrooms and that key words pertaining to English be displayed.
There were different practices observed in the assignment and correction of students’ work among teachers. In some instances, there was a need for teachers to assign more work to class groups, or to assign longer pieces of work. In these classes, there was an absence of constructive feedback given to students on where they needed to improve. Among other teachers, the good practice of regular assignment of homework and very good correction of this work was observed. In these instances, there was clear evidence of progress in students’ written work. The school already has a comprehensive homework policy. It is recommended that the English department develop their own policy in relation to common expectations of students’ work, appropriate assignments for each year group and frequency of assignments. A percentage of marks should be given for maintenance and presentation of students’ copies and folders in end-of-term examinations.
Some teachers were assiduous at keeping a formal record of students’ grades and marks and this practice should be adopted by all teachers. Parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group in the school. Good practice takes place in that the principal carries out an analysis of results in the state examinations and compares the outcomes with national averages. The number of students taking higher level in the state examinations for English at both Junior and Leaving Certificate level varies greatly from year to year and a large cohort of students take foundation level in the Junior Certificate English examination.
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 and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2009