An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of English

REPORT

 

Boyne Community School

Trim, County Meath

Roll number: 91508C

 

Date of inspection: 17 October 2008

 

 

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Boyne Community School, carried out 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.

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Boyne Community School offers a range of programmes to students. These include the Junior Certificate, the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), and the Leaving Certificate Vocational programmes. An optional Transition Year programme is also available in senior cycle; however, as few students chose the course, no class was formed in 2008-09. For the same reason, although there was a small group of students in year two of the LCA programme, no first-year class for that programme was formed. A number of Post-Leaving Certificate courses (PLC) are also available in the school.

 

There is good provision for English in the school. Tuition in the subject is provided daily and, in senior cycle, the addition of a sixth lesson period is particularly supportive of the work done by teachers to help students achieve to their potential in certificate examinations. Class groups are mixed ability for English in first year and thereafter the subject is timetabled concurrently for all students within a year group, allowing the formation of higher and ordinary level class groups. Students’ progress is monitored through class assessments and, where appropriate, students can be re-assigned to class groups in order that they study English to the level which best suits their ability in the subject and can be supported to attain the highest grade possible at that level in the certificate examinations.

 

Deployment of teachers is in line with their qualifications, skills, knowledge and interests. Management encourages and facilitates continuing professional development for teachers. In addition to whole-school in-service on differentiation and on delivering the JCSP, members of the department have attended, in their own time, modular courses relevant to English provided by the Second Level Support Service. The benefits of this attendance for students in Boyne Community School were evident in classrooms visited during the evaluation. The JCSP classes are each assigned two teachers of English, each of whom takes the class group for three lessons per week. This works well principally because of the very careful collaborative planning that takes place, so that the programme followed is coherent and opportunities to cross-reference work done by the second teacher are planned for and utilised.

 

Access to shared teaching and learning resources is very good. The school makes funds available on request to enable teachers to purchase resources as needed and teachers freely share with one another a wide range of excellent resources for use in classroom. Many of the resources are the personal property of the teachers and their generosity in sharing these and other teacher-generated materials is indicative of their strong collegial spirit. Information and communications technology (ICT), including an interactive whiteboard, data-projectors and audio-visual equipment are available in some classrooms. These rooms are assigned to specific teachers and arrangements are made to swap rooms when these resources are needed. ICT is also available in the computer rooms, which are available on a booking system. Teachers of English use the internet to download material for use in the classroom and students are encouraged to access the wide range of learning materials available.

 

There is scope for teachers to make better use of the learning environment in their classrooms to support their work. In addition to providing a stimulating setting for learning, the learning of key vocabulary and quotations can be reinforced by, for example, wall displays as was evident in a small number of the classrooms visited. It is suggested that, as resources allow, a classroom should be designated as the English room, allowing the creation of a specific learning environment to support the teaching of English. This would also provide a central storage facility for the very many resources generously shared by the teachers. The provision of a dedicated data projector and ICT facilities in such a room would be particularly supportive of the teaching and learning of film studies.

 

Students are provided with opportunities for a range of extracurricular activities in English. Visits to the theatre are organised by the teachers as are opportunities to participate in debating and public speaking events. There is a very good library in the school and some use is made of this as students in first-year class groups are brought to the library by their English teachers. The library is also open to students at lunchtime.

 

In summary, there is very good support for the teaching and learning of English in Boyne Community School.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

English teachers have regular opportunities to meet formally as the school facilitates meeting time on a weekly basis. This time is used by the teaching staff to develop and progress planning in a variety of areas and the English teachers meet as a subject department six or eight times annually. Minutes are taken and each meeting reviews the progress made since the previous one. In addition, the English teachers meet regularly, though informally, to support one another. This indicates their enthusiasm for developing the department and working co-operatively. They rotate the role of subject co-ordinator around the team, thus benefiting from the leadership and management skills of the whole team.

 

There is a structured, collaborative, approach to the teaching of English evident in the planning documentation available in the school. This outlined the organisation, planning and delivery of the subject. Teachers in the school are to be complimented on the careful work done to develop a thematic approach to the teaching of English in junior cycle. This supports a strong focus on students’ learning needs in the subject, as opposed to a concentration on examination work. It can also ensure that language and literature are taught in an integrated, natural, way and care should be taken to ensure that this is so. At the next stage of review, it is recommended that the learning outcomes linked to the curriculum content planned should be identified at each stage of the programme for English. Increased use of the library to support students’ learning should also be planned. It is noted that the date and type of training received by each team member is documented in the subject department folder. This very good record-keeping provides evidence of a developmental approach to the expansion of teachers’ skills.

 

The school offers the Junior Certificate School Programme and good use is made of the JCSP student profiles and learning statements in order to meet the needs of these students. Active learning methodologies dominate and students are encouraged to participate fully in their own learning. It is recommended that the JCSP statements should act as the organising principle for the English plan for this programme.

 

The school also offers a FETAC accredited Post-Leaving Certificate course in Business. The Communications module G20001 is a required component of this course and planning for its delivery is very good. Tuition in Communications is generally available for two hours and thirty minutes each week. A clear scheme of work and appropriate assessment briefs has been developed. There is commendable linkage between the programme planned for the module and the course descriptors published by FETAC.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

In general, teachers’ individual planning for the eight lessons observed was of a high standard. Teachers had identified clear objectives and prepared relevant and helpful resources which took into account the level of ability of their students. In most lessons, the learning intention was shared with students at the outset, providing them with a clear indicator of the teachers’ expectations of their work in class. This, together with the mutually respectful behaviours observed, ensured that a good learning atmosphere was established from the outset.

 

The teachers were not over-reliant on the textbooks and, in most lessons, supplementary resources were used to good effect. In a senior cycle class, for example, very good use was made of a recording of a speech to highlight the key features of the language of persuasion. Students were encouraged to listen attentively and their comprehension of the speech was supported by having the text on a handout. The typeface used, the spacing of the text and the use of sub-headings ensured that the handout, though lengthy, was readable. In a junior cycle lesson, a story board and ‘action cards’ were used to structure a creative writing exercise. In other lessons, the worksheets that were used were quite visual and catered effectively for the ability level of the students in the classes. The effectiveness of the support provided was evident in the confidence with which students approached the tasks set by the teachers and in the quality of their work.

 

Whole-group instruction was used for introducing new ideas and was followed by individual, pair-work, or group working in order to achieve a good match between the complexity of tasks set and the students’ strengths. Teacher instruction was generally clear and accurate and time was invested in ensuring that students understood the new vocabulary and concepts encountered. In one class, for example, the whiteboard was used to highlight a list of key words which would be encountered during a lesson on poetry. Students compared and contrasted two poems and the teacher acted as note-taker, modelling on the whiteboard how notes should be recorded. It was interesting to note in students’ copies that they were very familiar with this method and that they had begun to take notes in a similar way. Modelling is an excellent support to students, as was seen in another lesson observed. Here, the teacher presented students with a printed writing frame to support their work. A similar approach could be seen in other classrooms visited, for example in a junior cycle lesson, the teacher used the overhead projector to provide students with careful instructions about how to organise their notes. As students reported back on research they had conducted, their ideas were seamlessly integrated with the teacher’s presentation and they were encouraged to listen to each other.

 

The careful pre-planning of lessons ensured that, in the lessons observed, students were actively and purposively engaged in learning across each of the four language domains. The emphasis on the development of students’ oral skills is particularly commendable. In a senior-cycle class, students worked in pairs to practise interviewing one another, assisted by the teacher who circulated to offer help as required. In other lessons, opportunities for students to see, read, listen and respond to one another’s work were provided. Following individual, pair and group work, students reported their insights and ideas to the whole-class group in plenary sessions. At all times, astute management of the pace of lessons worked to keep students on task and focussed and there were few interruptions to learning. In some instances, however, the pace was too hurried and the opportunities for students to have a deep encounter with the texts being studied were limited.

 

A range of writing tasks was tackled in class, from simple note-taking to lengthier, more challenging, assignments. Teachers reported that, where students are reluctant writers, they have implemented a strategy to ensure that each lesson includes a written element. This ensures that students practise this skill in a supportive environment. An examination of students’ copies indicated that generally, students’ work accurately reflects their ability in the subject. In many instances, students produced fluent, well structured pieces of writing, indicating a good awareness of register and audience. These students were familiar with their texts and could compose strong, relevant arguments in response to questions. In most cases, these were well supported by appropriate reference to the text. For some of these students, closer attention to accurate spelling and paragraphing is necessary in order that they achieve to their potential. In the copies provided by less able students of English, it was clear that some struggle to compose coherent, developed responses to texts. These students are very well supported by the teaching strategies used and the plans in place to address their difficulties are good. In some instances, students are working well below their potential and are not motivated to work well in English. Their written work is generally short and peremptory, with little evidence of a sustained effort to achieve the task set. The standard of presentation in their copies was disappointing. The teachers of English have instituted a number of strategies to address this, but the students themselves must take some responsibility for the quality of their work.

 

Students’ interaction with the inspector indicated that, generally, they are making good progress. Their contributions in class were confident and appropriate. The learning intentions for the lessons observed were achieved and students completed a range of sophisticated language tasks during the lessons. For example, students successfully advanced a story line using dialogue only; they accurately compared and contrasted the themes in two poems and they identified and explained a series of puns in advertising. In summary, students’ learning was generally of a good standard.

 

 

Assessment

 

Assessment during lessons mainly took the form of oral questioning to check understanding and to allow students express opinions. Questioning was specific, relevant and matched to students’ abilities and students’ responses were always strongly affirmed. Homework is set regularly, though teachers of English reported difficulties in motivating some students to attempt or complete homework assignments. In order to overcome this, many lessons conclude with a short period during which students may begin to tackle homework. At this time, teachers circulate to ensure that the task set is understood and to offer discreet support to students who struggle with writing. In two lessons observed, teachers have instigated a rewards system to motivate students to complete their work and this was reported to be working well. Given the reluctance of some students to write, the use of ‘comment only’ feedback, which identified what students had done well, is particularly appropriate and teachers are commended for its use. It is recommended that the teachers of English explore a wider range of feedback options, however, in order to motivate better attention to homework in some cases. The NCCA website on assessment for learning (www.afl.ncca.ie,) is a helpful source of information in this regard. It is suggested that greater use should be made of the certificate examination marking schemes with students in third and sixth years.

 

Examinations are held every Christmas and summer and reports are sent to parents following these. The very good practice of setting common papers for classes within a year group is noted as is the opportunity provided for students to work within the time constraints of the certificate examinations.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • There is good provision for English in the school. Tuition in the subject is provided daily and deployment of teachers is in line with their qualifications, skills, knowledge and interests.
  • Access to shared teaching and learning resources is very good.
  • Students are provided with opportunities for a range of extracurricular activities in English.
  • There is a structured, collaborative, approach to the teaching of English. Teachers in the school are to be complimented on the careful work done to develop a thematic approach to the teaching of English in junior cycle.
  • The careful pre-planning of lessons ensured that, in the lessons observed, students were actively and purposively engaged in learning.
  • Teachers made very good use of a variety of strategies to support students and the level of student participation in the lessons observed was very good.
  • In general, students’ work accurately reflects their ability in the subject.
  • Homework is set and assessed on a regular basis. Teachers provide clear guidance for students on the quality of their work and effort.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

  • As resources allow, a classroom should be designated as the English room, allowing the creation of a specific learning environment to support the teaching of the subject.
  • The learning outcomes linked to curriculum content should be identified at each stage of the programme for English.
  • Increased use of the library to support students’ learning should be planned.
  • A wider range of feedback options should be explored in order to motivate better attention to homework in some cases.

 

 

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 November 2009