An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Saint Patrick’s Community College
Naas, Co. Kildare
Roll number: 70710 D
Date of inspection: 25 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
This report was written following a subject inspection at St. Patrick’s Community College. It sets out the findings of the evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Irish and makes recommendations for the development of teaching in this subject in the school. This evaluation was conducted over the course of three days during which the inspector visited classrooms and the teaching and learning was observed. The inspector interacted with the students and with the teachers, students’ work was examined and discussion held with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the results of the evaluation to the Principal and to the subject teachers.
The students are streamed when they arrive in first year based on assessment tests. It is the Irish teachers’ aim to have separate classes for the different levels, wherever possible, instead of classes with higher and ordinary levels mixed which is the situation at present in general. Foundation level students can sometimes be included in these mixed classes. This year, the school management succeeded in establishing a higher-level class in third year, and it is intended to make strenuous efforts to retain the students on the higher-level course in the Senior Cycle. The teachers and management are commended on this approach, as it is important that students be given an opportunity to progress at every level.
49 students in the school have an exemption from the study of Irish. Learning support is offered or alternative arrangements are made for the students, as appropriate, during Irish classes. This approach is commended.
In Junior Cycle, every class in the school has four Irish class periods per week. The number of Irish class periods per week was reduced recently as four of the Irish teachers received promotion in the school. It is accepted that it is difficult for the school management to increase the number of periods at this point but it is recommended that planning be conducted to reinforce the provision in the future. It is also recommended that the time allocated to the Transition Year class be looked at. It is difficult to provide students with a full Irish programme within three periods per week.
Every effort is made to organise extracurricular and co-curricular events in the school to support the promotion of Irish as a living language. A series of events is organised during “Seachtain na Gaeilge”, table quizzes and a Céilí, for example. It is intended to speak with teachers in other schools to seek ideas for other events that could possibly be held. It is recommended that the opinions of both staff and students be sought on this matter. In addition, a card competition is organised for Christmas and Halloween. These cards are hung throughout the classrooms during the year, which means that students’ work can be seen and Irish itself is also visible. It is intended to develop these competitions this year to celebrate a broader range of the year’s major occasions such as St. Valentine’s Day, Mothers’ Day, and St. Patrick’s Day etc. These competitions give every student an opportunity to participate in some manner in promoting the language regardless of competence in Irish. The students who are exempt from Irish are also encouraged to participate in these competitions.
The teachers are commended for their efforts in establishing an Irish Club in the school last year. It is intended to re-establish it again this year following the midterm break. It is recommended that the Irish Club be continued and that the possibility of registering with one of the Irish youth organisations that provide support for Irish clubs be investigated. Contact could be made with Feachtas, for example, who support Irish clubs especially in school settings. Last year the students also made a radio programme that was broadcast on Raidió na Life. The teachers’ efforts to provide a programme of events of this type are highly commendable. Additional events that show Irish to be a living language reinforce the teachers’ efforts in the classrooms. It is very important to place the proper emphasis on this aspect of developing the language and of developing the Gaelic culture in general.
The Vocational Education Committee provides a very generous sum of money to assist the Irish teachers in their efforts to promote Irish in the school. The management is commended for providing this very important support. The immediate compilation of a list of all aids and resources that are available in the school for the teaching of Irish is recommended. When moving to the new school it is recommended that the aids be stored in a central location where all the teachers can easily access them.
One teacher is nominated to be in charge of co-ordinating planning for the subject in the school. This approach is highly commended as it ensures that one person is responsible for planning for the subject. The current arrangement is to be in force for three years. Following that, it is recommended that every teacher be given an opportunity to undertake this charge in order to give them all an opportunity to accept a leadership role with regard to teaching the language in the school. A formal meeting of the teachers is held once per term but they also meet on a regular basis between formal meetings. It is clear that there are good relations and co-operation among the Irish teachers and this greatly adds to continuity in teaching the language.
As part of the School Development Planning process last year the teachers were given time to meet and develop a plan for the teaching and learning of Irish. The teachers are highly commended for the work they have done on the plan for Irish that describes general aims and objectives concerning the learning of Irish in addition to describing the teaching of the subject itself up to the Junior Certificate. The references to the possibilities associated with cross-curricular work are commended but further development of this aspect of the planning is recommended. It is recommended that the planning work to date and the plan for Irish be further developed to describe the teaching of Irish to every level and to every year in the school. It is also recommended that a more complete description of the range of teaching strategies and the range of resources to be used in class, be detailed in the plan. It is recommended that the range of resources that are available should be continuously examined and that planning be conducted to provide up to date attractive resources in the school on a regular basis. Planning for the use of information and communication technology should also form part of the plan. It is accepted that better computer facilities will be available to the teachers when the school moves to the new building. However, a start could be made on the use of the new technology on a limited basis and planning for wider use when the new building is occupied could be initiated.
It was reported that the publications “Staighre” and “Dréimire” are used in the classes in addition to the weekly paper “Foinse”. One teacher obtained “Breacadh” and it is intended to discuss the possibilities for its use among the Irish teachers. The continued use of all these publications is recommended but ensuring the regular use of the Irish communications media, in order to place the teaching of Irish in a modern setting that would be attractive to students, is also recommended.
The school is conducting a Transition Year again this year, for the first time in a number of years. The emphasis placed in the Transition Year plan on communications and on speaking Irish is commended. However, it is recommended that the Transition Year plan be developed and emphasis also be placed on the use of a range of resources and a broad range of activities with the students. It would also be worthwhile investigating the possibilities associated with a trip to the Gaeltacht as part of the year’s programme.
Every class observed was well and carefully prepared and worksheets and notes for distribution among the students were prepared.
The use of Irish as the target language in the class was excellent overall. Irish was continuously employed as the language of teaching, communication and management. Clever and effective efforts were made to avoid Irish to English translation as much as possible and this approach is highly commended. There was one case however, where Irish to English translation was used on a fairly continuous basis. It is strongly recommended that everyone follow the same practice. Proper emphasis was placed on communicative skills in the classes. In some classes observed role-play and pair-work were used and continuous attempts were made in every class to encourage the students to speak and discuss through the use of open questioning and other ideas. Teachers consistently demanded answers in Irish and in certain classes the students were given to understand that Irish was the language of communication in the classroom. In certain classes it was clear that much work had been done with the students in using Irish as the class management language, to the extent that students were able to use the language in a natural manner with the teacher. The teachers are commended for their work in this area. In some classes the students made great efforts to ask and to answer questions in Irish. The Irish teachers intend to place great emphasis on the development of communications skills from first year onward and to conduct assessments on those skills accordingly. This united approach is highly commendable.
A range of activities was conducted in the majority of classes and that ensured a good pace to the lessons. In one case the aim of the lesson and the class’s targets were explained at the beginning of the period. This approach is highly commended and is recommended for use in every class. The whiteboard was used effectively in every class and the use made of the overhead projector in one case is commended. The use a broader range of new technology aids and resources in the classes is recommended in order to make learning Irish more attractive and diverse to students. It is extremely important to portray the language to them in various situations, and particularly in modern situations. It is not sufficient to rely solely on the textbook.
In a couple of cases observed good efforts were made to link the lesson material with the students’ lives. This approach is extremely important in the context of making learning Irish more enjoyable and attractive to students. It is recommended, wherever possible, to link aspects of every lesson with the students’ own contemporary lifestyles.
Aspects of grammar were interwoven through every class in an enjoyable way. Pupils in certain classes displayed good knowledge of the grammatical points being covered. Effective use was made of repetition in classes to ensure that students understood what was happening and in order to give them ample opportunity to hear and practice new sentences again and again.
The teachers were energetic and enthusiastic in conducting the classes observed. Teachers moved about the classrooms speaking to students, correcting them and ensuring that work was in progress and that everyone understood what was to be done. Students displayed interest in the lessons and enthusiasm for learning. Discipline was excellent in every class observed.
Students were presented with challenging tasks in some of the classes observed. Teachers required a certain level of effort and thought from students in the classes, depending of course on level of ability, and this approach is commended.
A good quantity of posters and work done by students was to be seen in the classrooms. This is highly commended but increasing the number of posters on display in the classrooms is recommended. It is understood that the quantity of students’ works on display will be considerably increased according as the various art competitions are organised during the year.
Proper emphasis was placed on correction of phonetics in a couple of classes observed. This approach is commended although it is important to correct students in an understanding manner without upsetting the flow of conversation or the student’s self-confidence.
In-house exams are arranged twice per year at Christmas and in summer. Reports are sent to the parents at home twice each year and parent/teacher meetings are arranged. Effective use is made of the school diary as a tool to keep teachers and parents informed on the progress of the student. If any problem is developing with a student it will be evident to both parent and teacher.
Minor class exams are held following each learning unit. The results of these minor exams are used in the meetings with parents in order to illustrate the student’s progress. The students’ overall effort in class during the year is included in the results of Christmas and summer exams. The teachers intend to place greater emphasis on communications skills from first year onward. A list of questions has been compiled and each first year teacher will cover these questions in class and assessment of communication skills will be conducted based on these questions. The questions will be integrated and adjusted in second year building on what the students learned in the first year. This approach is highly commended. It is very important to emphasise communication skills from first year onward and to assess those skills on a continuous basis. The development of these skills should not be left for the Leaving Certificate classes. The plan set out by the teachers is measured and based on what will have been covered by students in primary school and in the first year.
It was clear from the copybooks observed that homework is given and corrected regularly in general. Good careful work had been done in a considerable number of copybooks observed and there were references in Irish to the value of the work in addition to a mark or grade in certain cases. A combination of written and learning homework was given. This combination is highly commended. It is important that there should be an emphasis on learning and writing Irish in the homework in general. There were different practices in use however, as regards the frequency of written homework. In the context of school planning and the proposed development of a homework policy, it is recommended that the Irish teachers look into the question of homework in Irish in order to achieve an agreed approach.
· The arrangements in place for students exempted from Irish are commended.
· Particular significance is attached to the teachers’ efforts to provide a broad attractive programme of extracurricular and co-curricular events in support of the class work.
· The school management is commended for the generous financial support given to the Irish teachers to acquire a range of materials and resources.
· The time allocation in place to support the teachers in planning for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school is commended. The arrangement regarding the nomination of co-ordinators for every subject is also commended.
· Significant work on planning has been carried out by the Irish teachers to date.
· The use of Irish as the language for management, teaching and communication was excellent overall in the classes observed.
· The appropriate and correct emphasis was placed on developing students’ communication skills in various ways in the classes observed.
· A range of activities featured in every class, ensuring that every lesson had good pace.
· Good, continuous support was given to students in every class and they were praised for their efforts.
· In certain classes the students were presented with challenging tasks in accordance with their abilities and this approach is commended.
· The plan to be introduced this year for the assessment of communication skills from first year onward is highly commended.
The following recommendations are made in order to build on these strengths and to identify areas for development:
· It is recommended that the number of periods for third year and for the Transition Year be increased when the school has the capacity.
· It is recommended that the Irish Club continue and the benefits of registering with a youth organisation that would lend support to the club should be investigated.
· It is recommended that the materials and resources available to Irish be recorded immediately and that they be made available in a central location as soon as the school relocates to the new building.
· It is recommended that the plan for Irish be integrated having regard to planning for the use of a broader range of materials and resources. The use of information and communication technology in the Irish classrooms should also be looked at.
· The regular use of the Irish media to make the learning and teaching of Irish more attractive for both students and teachers is recommended.
· Further development of the Irish plan for the Transition Year is recommended.
· It is recommended that an approach to Irish homework be agreed in the context of the proposed school policy on homework.
Post-assessment meetings were arranged with the Irish teachers and with the Principal at which time the draft findings and recommendations were presented and discussed.