An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Holy Child School
Killiney, County Dublin
Roll number: 60250M
Date of inspection: 3 April 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN IRISH
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Holy Child School, Killiney. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Irish and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the Principal and the 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.
First year students are placed in mixed-ability classes in this school. In second year they are divided in accordance with the results of the summer examinations taken at the end of first year. Second year and third year consist of two higher-level classes and one ordinary-level class. The same arrangement applies in Transition Year (TY) also. Fifth year and sixth year students are assigned to one higher-level class and to two ordinary-level classes. Classes in Irish in the various year groups are timetabled concurrently, a relatively new arrangement in this school which facilitates flexibility between the levels; this is commendable.
The junior cycle classes have four periods of Irish per week, a provision which is not entirely satisfactory as regards giving students continuing access to the language. It is recommended to management that the possibility of allocating an additional period to Irish in one of the junior cycle years should be explored. Three periods per week are allocated to Irish in Transition Year; with a view to providing a comprehensive, stimulating programme for this year, it would be advisable to assign an additional period per week if possible.
Three teachers are responsible for teaching Irish in the school. They are all qualified Irish teachers and have many years experience of teaching the language. An additional teacher has been employed by the school in order to enhance the provision for Irish and to put it on the same footing as the other two core subjects, English and Mathematics. Classes and levels are interchanged among the Irish teachers and this is a praiseworthy approach.
Thirty-five students, out of the total enrolment of three hundred and twenty-eight, have an exemption from the study of Irish. Nine of these exemptions have been granted for learning difficulties, twelve have been granted to students who received their education up to eleven years of age abroad and the remaining fourteen have been granted to newcomer students.
The teachers of Irish engaged in celebrating Seachtain na Gaeilge this year by organising an Art competition, a quiz and a concert. In addition, teams have been entered in the Gael Linn debates in recent years. The teachers’ work in this regard is highly commended, as enjoyable activities through Irish consolidate the efforts of teachers in the classroom. They also give students a chance to experience Irish as a living language. It is recommended that the teachers should build on what they have accomplished already and devise an attractive extra-curricular and co-curricular programme for implementation throughout the whole school year.
It was indicated that a reasonable number of students go to the Gaeltacht each year. It is recommended to the management and the Irish teachers that they should bring to the attention of parents the advantages of attending Irish courses in the Gaeltacht and inform them of such courses as are available both in the Gaeltacht and in Dublin itself. If a substantial number of students were to attend some type of Irish course it would help to raise the profile of the language in the school significantly.
The teachers of Irish have been assigned designated classrooms, an arrangement which gives them opportunities of decorating them suitably by displaying on the walls posters and other material related to the teaching of the language, including the students’ own work. While a certain amount of material had been put on display in the classrooms, this could be augmented so as to exploit the environment as a support for learning.
An annual budget is allocated to the teaching and learning of Irish. The teachers have access to a wide range of technical and library resources. It is recommended that a list be compiled of the resources available specifically for the teaching of the language and that this list should constitute a core element of the plan for Irish. There is a far greater likelihood that a range of materials will be used in class, if the range of resources available is known to all. Teachers should always be ready to source new materials and resources coming on the market. Information on current resources is available on a range of websites, including the website of An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta, www.eolas.cogg.ie.
The most senior teacher of Irish in the school has been nominated as co-ordinator of planning for the language. The teachers of Irish meet as a group at least once a term and more frequently as required. The main topics discussed comprise school reports, arrangements for common examinations, the assignment of students to classes, Seachtain na Gaeilge and communication through Irish in classes. Short minutes of these meetings were kept in 2008/’09 as part of a review of the subject in the school.
A reasonably comprehensive plan has been drawn up for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school. This plan incorporates an account of the general aims for each year group and level. It includes information on textbooks and the topics to be covered with the various classes, as well as a description of approaches to written work and class work. The work completed to date on planning for Irish is commended; it is clear that considerable effort and time has been devoted to it. However, it is recommended that additional details on various methodologies, on resources to be used in class and on methods of assessment should form part of the plan. A longer introduction could also be added to the plan, giving further information on the structure and approach of the Irish department in general.
A plan for Transition Year was also made available during the evaluation. It is particularly praiseworthy that the students are given an opportunity of participating in the Gael Linn media course, where they learn how to put together a short film and a radio programme. It was reported that this course has a considerable influence on the students and that it helps greatly to cultivate a positive attitude towards the language among the senior-cycle students. It is recommended that the teachers should continue to develop the Transition Year programme with a view to fostering various activities which would give the students further experience of Irish as a living language outside the classroom. The Transition Year students could be assigned to organising activities during Seachtain na Gaeilge and throughout the year. In 2008, the teachers in the school reviewed their various subject areas, as part of an over-all review carried out under the aegis of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). The results of the review in respect of Irish formed part of the documentation made available during the evaluation. The teachers are to be highly commended on their work on the review and on their objective analysis of the position of Irish in the school. The number of students opting for the higher level paper in the established Leaving Certificate examination is a cause of concern for them, a matter which they intend addressing. The number of students in the higher-level class in fifth year is greater than in recent years; this is an encouraging indication that their efforts and efforts of school management to motivate the students are succeeding.
The use of Irish as the language of management, of instruction and of communication was very good indeed in all the classes observed. Creditable efforts were also made to avoid the use of translation from Irish into English in order to ensure an understanding of the subject matter of lessons. The diligence of the teachers in using the target language is highly commended.
The aim of the lesson was written on the white board in the great majority of classes observed. It is sound practice to inform the students of what is to be addressed in the class and to set down the learning objectives beforehand. It would be worthwhile extending this practice to include all classes.
Considerable efforts were made in the large majority of classes to create communication opportunities for the students. In some of the classes observed strategies such as pair work and role-play were employed. In other classes the lesson began with an open discussion on the everyday lives of students initiated by asking a question on the news of the day. In other instances this type of discussion arose naturally in the course of the lesson. This approach deserves high praise. However, it was felt that further opportunities for communication could have been created in some classes and it is recommended that the teachers should discuss among themselves ways of developing additional strategies designed to encourage the students to speak Irish, particularly those who are shy and less competent in the language.
A certain number of resources were used in the classes observed and this practice is highly commended. The introduction into the class of various materials drawn from contemporary life is essential, in order to contextualise the subject matter of lessons for the students, especially the prose and poetry. TG4 programmes were utilised in a number of instances observed and the students derived obvious enjoyment and benefit from one of the programmes in particular. If one programme from a television series is used, it would be advisable to tell the students to continue on and to view a number of programmes from the series and to discuss them in class. In this fashion the habit of watching TG4 is being fostered and the learning achieved by viewing the first programme in class is being built on. Furthermore, a map and adhesive diagrams were used to assist students to role-play presenting the weather forecast, an activity from which they derived great enjoyment and benefit. Some use was made of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in certain classes in order to display pictures and a summary of a story. This approach is commended and it is recommended that the use of ICT in class should be expanded gradually, as well as adding to the number of resources being used.
Excellent efforts were made in some of the classes observed to make the subject matter of lessons interesting and relevant to the students. In certain classes humour was employed naturally and this was highly successful as a means of enlivening the students’ interest in learning. Teachers frequently spoke on various issues which were of interest to the students and every effort was made to link subject matter to everyday life. Current affairs, pop stars and current political events were discussed. In one class VIFAX (an interactive news service from the University of Maynooth), was used and the questions from VIFAX were very effectively utilised to establish a link between the subject matter of the lesson and the students’ own lives. It was felt that the students were at their ease in the classes and, on the whole, that they were enjoying their learning.
The classes were well structured and incorporated a range of activities, thus ensuring that the lessons were properly paced. The students were given opportunities of practising all the linguistic skills, encompassing listening, understanding, speaking and writing, although a greater emphasis could have been placed on developing oral skills in a number of classes observed.
The teachers were both active and diligent in their teaching of the classes observed. They circulated about the classrooms, ensuring that students were working and that the work was being completed. It was clear that a good relationship existed between the students and the teachers and that a positive working atmosphere prevailed in all classes. In some cases the students displayed a good standard of Irish and they exhibited confidence in communicating with the teacher and with one another. In other cases it was apparent that they were not as competent in the language and many of them experienced difficulties with the pronunciation of Irish. It is recommended that the teachers should discuss this question and should agree on strategies for first year students designed to inculcate greater confidence in them and to improve their pronunciation.
In-house examinations are administered twice a year, at Christmas and in summer. In addition, class examinations are held at mid-term during the first term and at Easter. Four reports per year are sent to parents informing them of the progress being made by their children.
The teachers organise common examinations for the year groups in which more than one class group studies at the same level; this practice is commendable. In addition to the other skills of language, it was reported that the oral skills of students are also assessed in first year, in fifth year and in sixth year. It is recommended that oral skills should in future be assessed in all year groups and at all levels. It is extremely important that a proper emphasis is placed on the assessment of communication skills. An oral examination followed by the presentation of the ‘Fáinne’ could be organised as an assessment test for Transition Year students.
It was clear from the copybooks and the homework journals examined that homework is assigned and corrected on a regular basis. The homework had been corrected carefully with noted comments on the quality of the work and on the progress of the students.
The junior certificate state examinations are taken at the higher level by a reasonably large number of students. This number decreases markedly in the senior cycle whereby only a small number of students take the higher level papers in the Leaving Certificate state examinations. The school is commended on acknowledging this trend and on making a decision to seek a significant increase in the number of students taking Irish at higher level in the Leaving Certificate in future. A period spent on a course in the Gaeltacht or on a similar Irish language course, an enjoyable extra-curricular and co-curricular programme and a greater emphasis on Irish as a living language in Transition Year should help to bring about the realisation of this objective.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The support given by the school management to Irish in general is commended.
· The efforts made to give the students experience of Irish as a living language, through participation in the Gael Linn debates, and the Gael Linn media course for TY, as well as by
organising events as part of Seachtain na Gaeilge, are commended.
· A good plan for the teaching and learning of Irish was made available during the evaluation.
· The review conducted on the position of Irish in the school in general is commended.
· The use of Irish as the language of management, of instruction and of communication was very good indeed in the classes observed and the teachers are complimented on
the use of the target language.
· Students were given many opportunities for communication in the classes observed, through the implementation of strategies such as paired work, making presentations and role playing.
· Praise is merited by the way in which TG4 programmes, VIFAX and ICT were used in some of the classes observed.
· Significant, praiseworthy efforts were made to make the subject matter of lessons interesting and stimulating and to link the topics of lessons to everyday life.
· The lessons were well structured and incorporated a range of activities and opportunities for practising all the skills of language.
· The teachers were both active and diligent in their teaching of the classes observed and it was obvious that a good relationship existed between the teachers and the students.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the school management should review the provision made for Irish on the school timetable for junior cycle classes and for Transition Year, with a view to
improving it in the future.
· It is recommended that the extra-curricular and co-curricular programme for Irish should be expanded, in order that a stimulating programme of events would be implemented
throughout the whole year.
· It is recommended that the plan for the teaching and learning of Irish would be developed and that is should contain additional specific details on methodology, the use of
teaching resources and methods of assessment.
· It is recommended that the range of resources being used in classes should be enhanced and that the use of ICT should be extended.
· It is recommended that an on-going discussion should be conducted on strategies designed to bring about, over time, an increase in the number of students taking Irish at the higher
level for Leaving Certificate.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the Principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published March 2010