An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Athy Community College
Athy, County Kildare
Roll number: 70650L
Date of inspection: 13 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching of Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Athy Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of 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 deputy principal and to the subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
An inspection of Irish was carried out in the junior cycle, Athy Community College in 2003 and it was evident that the management and teachers implemented the recommendations made in that report in the development work done on the subject in the school since then. This report is based on the quality of learning and teaching of Irish in the junior cycle and in the senior cycle. The school is involved in the Developing Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme.
The management, in co-operation with the teachers, make good provision for Irish in the school and offer good support for the subject.
There are three teachers of Irish in the school, all having Irish in their degrees. Two of them have long experience of teaching Irish and all three have satisfactory competence in the language for the purpose of teaching the subject. The teachers are afforded opportunities of teaching Irish in the various programmes offered by the school and every effort is made to provide continuity for them with the same classes from year to year within each cycle. The management is commended for this because it is important that teachers gain experience of implementing the various programmes. The management is commended also for supporting the teachers in utilising opportunities for professional development and all three teachers had attended workshops provided for the teaching of Irish by the Second Level Support Service, during the current year.
Students’ literacy and numeracy skills are assessed as part of their school-transfer examinations. The purpose of this is to identify learning difficulties and as a guide to allocating students to appropriate classes. There are two class groups in each year of the junior cycle and one class-group in each year follows the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). The profile statement requirements of the JCSP were being fulfilled. At the time of this inspection visit, the group of students in third year were not going to do Irish as part of the Junior Certificate. The profile statements for Irish in the JCSP accord with Siollabas don Teastas Sóisearach: Gaeilge and it is recommended that the students be empowered and supported to attempt the Irish examination for Junior Certificate at a level suited to their ability. This would present them with a challenge as well as equality of esteem with their peers. It is further recommended that the management, in collaboration with the teachers, consider the benefits JCSP students could derive from being integrated into other class groups within their particular year group.
The established Leaving Certificate (LC) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) are provided in the senior cycle. Students participating in the LCA programme study Gaeilge Chumarsáideach in the first year of the programme. This is commended as it provides the students with continuity in their Irish language learning experience from junior to senior cycle.
The allocation of time for Irish on the timetable for fifth-year and sixth-year students, including the Leaving Certificate Applied, is satisfactory. The distribution of Irish class periods for LC fifth-year and sixth-year students should be reviewed, however, because they have two class-periods for Irish on one day of each week. Students derive more benefit in the area of language acquisition from a regular daily input of the language. In the case of the junior cycle, it is recommended that no further reduction be made in the amount of time allocated to Irish. Third-year students are allocated five class periods per week, a satisfactory allocation. However, first-year and second-year students are allocated only four class-periods per week.
It was reckoned that, of a total enrolment of 174 students, 18% had exemptions from Irish. About half of those are students who got their early education abroad and it was considered that the remainder had learning difficulties. The management tries to arrange to provide classes in English as an additional language and learning or resource support for students who are entitled to them, while Irish classes are in progress, as far as possible. The management is commended for these efforts.
There is a very good provision of resources and aids available for the teaching of Irish in the school. Among these are a laptop for every teacher as well as a data-projector for the use of the department of Irish. It is recommended that, when planning for teachers’ continuous professional development, management consider teachers’ needs in the area of training in the use of the resources available for the teaching and learning of Irish. There also are white-boards, notice boards, posters and CD/DVD players and television sets available, as well as storage-presses and shelves in the classrooms. It is mainly on an individual basis that teachers collect and develop resources, for example, programmes, news excerpts and weather reports from TG4 or elsewhere, for use in class. It is recommended that they would collaborate when planning for the development and provision of these resources as part of the overall planning for the subject.
The use of Irish is evident in the school environment and this is praiseworthy. It is part of school practice to pose a question in Irish on a topical subject on the electronic notice-board inside the main door of the school as part of a monthly competition held in the school. The name of the prize-winner is announced on this screen also. Events such as table quizzes and poster competitions are organised for Seachtain na Gaeilge, and writing competitions in Irish and English are also organised annually in the school. The Vocational Education Committee make scholarships available to support students who wish to attend summer colleges in the Gaeltacht and the DEIS programme is also used to provide scholarships. The management and the teachers are commended for the opportunities provided for the students, to add to their experience of using Irish outside of their formal classes.
The teachers, on a rotation basis, assume the role of co-ordinator of the department of Irish. This arrangement is praiseworthy because it affords all teachers the opportunity of developing their experience and skills in this area. Planning for examinations, choosing textbooks and developing the range of resources are the main aims of the meetings held by the teachers, as well as awarding Gaeltacht scholarships. Minutes of these meetings are held in the school plan file in the staffroom. This is good practice.
A long-term plan has been developed for Irish as part of the school curriculum, in accordance with a previous recommendation. Overall, the plan is of good quality. It is recommended that, in the continuing work on the plan, the links between the aims and objectives and the school’s mission statement be stated explicitly. It is recommended also that the teachers complete the gaps at present existing, under headings such as planning for students with special educational needs, cross-curricular planning; the requirements of the subject in the light of the school’s health and safety statement. Regarding the further development of planning for the subject, it is recommended that a framework of the expected learning outcomes be set out at the various stages for the different year groups and levels and that these be based on the various language skills and functions referred to in the syllabuses; that it would be evident from the plan that development of learning would be graduated, that the development of the different language skills and various aspects of the courses, including language and cultural awareness, would be integrated; that teaching and learning methodologies, including assessment methods and the use of ICT be further developed; that it would be evident from the plan that it is regularly monitored and reviewed; that the plan include an account of the co-curricular and extra-curricular events and activities organised to support the learning of Irish.
Apart from asking questions at various levels of challenge in class and making extra reading-material available, no particular planning is undertaken to differentiate content in the classroom. It is now recommended, in the context of the suggested development of teaching and learning methodologies, that attention be directed on differentiation of content in class, as a special focus for short-term planning.
In addition to that, it is recommended that teachers undertake short-term planning for their classes, which would be based on the long-term plan and that they organise the material on a term-by-term basis. A common programme is laid out for third-year classes at present and it is recommended that this good practice be extended to other year groups.
Planning and preparation had been done for the classes observed. In some cases this was of a very good quality and ensured that the classes were very well structured.
In a few cases, the roll was called and answered in Irish at the start of class. This is good practice and it is recommended that it be more widely used. It is also recommended that the general classroom language needed by the students be included as part of the programme for first year, to enable them to answer the roll and participate in conversation on related matters in Irish. It would also be worth spending a couple of minutes at the start of class on conversation in Irish on topical subjects, to help the students to settle down.
Work was done, in the classes observed, on various topics and language skills. In a few cases, students had to undertake a variety of tasks. In keeping with the time of the school year when the inspection was conducted, with house and state examinations imminent, revision was the main concern in the classes observed.
The subject matter of the lessons was communicated to the students at the outset. It is recommended that this practice be developed, to include the sharing of the expected learning outcomes with the students at the start of class. It is also recommended that, at the end of class, the teachers afford students the opportunity to reflect on what they have learnt and how they learned it.
The case observed where development of the various language skills was integrated and where PowerPoint slides were used to remind students of key vocabulary and to offer them stimuli for a task to be undertaken as group work is highly commended. This particular example of group work was well organised, with students having definite roles, a time-limit set for the task and feedback to be given to the class at the end. This is highly commendable and it is recommended that the methodology be used in other classes. This work afforded the students opportunities of practising the vocabulary and syntax of the language and helped them to present feedback when the task was completed. It is recommended that good practice such as this be more widely used because it emphasises the development of students’ understanding of the syntax of the language, instead of giving them long vocabulary lists to learn, as was done in a minority of the classes.
In another case, work was done on listening comprehension tests from past state examinations. It is recommended that, unless the aim of such work is to provide intensive practice under examination conditions, the work should be planned so that a common theme runs through the subject involved in the listening comprehension, other aspects of the courses and other skills to be developed by the students. It is also recommended that teachers utilise the opportunities that arise in such work to ensure that students learn something new, for example, enriching their vocabulary by asking extra questions and sharing with them how they might say the same thing differently, and creating opportunities for them to develop and practice their understanding and experience of the syntax of the language. Additionally, it is recommended that the material be presented to the students in novel ways during revision work, in order to reinforce learning.
The majority of the students took an active part in their learning. The various needs and learning styles of the students must be taken into account when preparing material for classes. In this context, it is recommended that a variety of resources and aids be used to present the material to the students and to facilitate their understanding of it. In some cases, questioning strategies were effectively used to encourage students to expand on their answers; it is recommended that this practice be more extensively used.
Irish was used as the language of instruction and management in all the classes observed, but it was obvious that this was not the norm in every case. It is recommended that teachers continue to develop the use of the target language for instruction and management and as the normal language of communication. There was a satisfactory balance in some of the classes between the proportion of talking done by the teacher and that done by the students. The students demonstrated an understanding of Irish commensurate with their ability and some of them were well able to express themselves in Irish. In other instances, however, far more Irish should be heard from the students.
The atmosphere in the classes was conducive to learning. There were posters and examples of students’ work on display on the walls and effective use was made of these to support the students in undertaking tasks in some instances. This is praiseworthy. While the students were working, the teachers moved around among them, to help individual students.
Students’ participation in class, homework, class tests and house examinations are used to assess the progress they are making. The copybooks inspected showed that work had been done on a range of subjects which accorded with the requirements of the syllabuses and that the work was being regularly corrected. There were notes of praise in the copybooks in certain cases, a practice which encourages the students. It is recommended that the teachers agree an approach to correcting of students’ work which would give recognition to work well or accurately done and would also give guidance on ways of improving their work and making greater progress. It is also recommended that this approach be based on Assessment for Learning (McF/AfL). Further information on this is available at www.ncca.ie.
Class tests and house examinations are based mainly on listening, writing, reading comprehension as well as literature, as appropriate. The practice in operation for first year, for example, where all the language skills are taken into account in the assessment is highly commended. It is recommended that this practice be used with the other year groups also, so that students would experience assessment of the main language skills throughout the course of their study at post-primary level. Such a practice would closely accord with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses.
Formal house examinations are held twice a year as well as ‘mock’ state examinations in the second term for third-year and sixth-year students. Reports on students’ achievements are sent home twice a year and parents/guardians may request reports on their children’s progress at other times also. Parent-teacher meetings are organised annually for the various year groups.
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 Irish and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published January 2009