Blackrock, County Dublin
Roll number: 60930L
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rosemont Secondary School. 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 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, deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Rosemont Secondary School is a school for girls and has an enrolment of 109 students. It describes itself as part of a network of schools inspired by the life and teachings of St Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei. In this context, it receives a number of students from other countries, who attend the school for varying lengths of time. Subject teachers, including the teachers of English, have to take into account the educational needs of students for whom English is not a first language. The school values the diversity of intake. There is one class group in each year and therefore classes are of mixed ability and may, in the case of examination classes, be of mixed level. It was noted that a number of international students were being prepared for certificate examinations in English at the level judged most appropriate. It was also noted at the time of the inspection that class sizes were in some cases considerably smaller than the original enrolment number because students from abroad had returned home before the end of the school year.
The English department currently has five members, one of whom is studying for the Post-graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) and is teaching a junior cycle class. A member currently on leave is to return in September 2009. The principal is also a teacher of English and shares the teaching of some senior cycle classes. The English department is large relative to the size of the school. However, there was evidence of a very high level of collaborative work to support consistency of practice and the cumulative development of skills. Although no teacher is currently taking classes in both junior and senior cycles, it was reported that the normal pattern is deployment in both cycles. School management should seek to ensure that the available teaching resource is deployed in a manner that supports continuity of delivery and the building of experience within the teaching team.
Timetable provision for English is generally very good. All junior cycle classes have an English lesson every day and almost all are timetabled in the morning. The number and distribution represents optimal provision for the subject. Students in the compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme have three lessons of core English that are well distributed through the week. Modules that link with and support English are also offered as part of the TY programme. English is timetabled every day in fifth and sixth year, but most lessons are in the afternoon. A better distribution of lessons between morning and afternoon would be preferable and this could be considered for the 2009/10 timetable. The timetable complies fully with the requirements of Circular M29/95, Time in School.
The school has provided very good resources to support the teaching and learning of English, and to encourage students to read for pleasure. In addition, the teachers of English have gathered an excellent collection of resources, some from in-service courses, and many that they have created themselves. The school has internet access, and laptops and data projectors are available in a number of rooms. All of these have been admirably incorporated into teaching and learning practices. The school management has encouraged the sharing of expertise in information and communication technology (ICT) among members of staff. Although the school has no library, school-based reading clubs are available for students and their parents, and extensive leisure-time reading lists are given to students. A wide range of co-curricular activities supports and extends the students’ experience of English, including theatre visits, poetry workshops, and cross-curricular projects involving English and Art.
The school facilitates initial teacher training through offering teaching experience to PGDE students, with supportive mentoring systems in place. Continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers is given a high priority by school management. Teachers have attended external in-service courses and, commendably, have also engaged in peer-led CPD within the school, with both experienced teachers and student teachers making presentations to their colleagues.
Whole-school planning is embedded in Rosemont School and subject planning for English is at an advanced stage, with much exemplary practice in evidence. Particularly noteworthy are the high level of shared reflective practice and the collaborative development of resources. A voluntary subject convenor is in place and, in the interests of continuity, one member of the team has undertaken this role. It is suggested that consideration be given to rotating the role so that all members of the department would have the opportunity to extend their experience. This would be in keeping with the school’s very good practice in supporting professional development. Formal subject planning meetings take place every term and frequent less formal meetings are held to discuss specific issues. Minutes are kept and decisions are recorded, in line with good practice.
The English department is commended on the good quality of its planning. Detailed plans for each year group are drawn up on an annual basis and are stored electronically. The plans indicate the content to be covered and give a timeframe, resources and activities to be used in teaching and learning. A number of the year plans refer to end-of-topic tests. Some include an integrated approach to language and literature where writing practice of different kinds is generated from the texts being read. This is very good practice and should be built in to all year plans. The TY English course supports the aims of the TY programme both in content and in teaching and learning approaches, with a laudable emphasis on investigative and independent learning. It was noted with approval that, while the plans give a clear structure to the year’s work, they remain flexible and have been adjusted to meet particular student needs or preferences as they arise.
In further developing the good planning practices in place, the teaching team should identify in specific terms the knowledge and skills that are the desired learning outcomes of the various programmes of work. To support more skills-focused planning, it would be helpful to devise a planning template that links the target skills with texts and topics, suitable strategies and resources, and appropriate methods of assessment. The use of the same template would also ensure that the very good practices found in many of the plans are extended to all yearly schemes of work.
The plans drawn up for each year group set out a rich programme of reading in a variety of genres. It was particularly noted that junior cycle students encounter a number of novels and plays and a wide range of poetry, so that the open nature of the syllabus has been fully exploited. This is most commendable. Shakespearean drama is given prominence in both the junior and senior cycles. In planning the appropriate resources and approaches, teachers should consider the excellent audio recordings of the plays that are readily available.
A very high level of individual planning and preparation was evident in all cases. In preparing for lessons, teachers had researched the relevant topics thoroughly and had assembled a variety of materials and resources in a range of media.
Five lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation, covering all years from first to fifth and involving all but one of the English teaching team. The quality of teaching observed was good, and there were instances of very good practice, with some exemplary use of active learning methods and of ICT. Teachers were knowledgeable and enthusiastic advocates for the subject. Most students participated well in class discussion and activities, and all worked productively and co-operatively with each other and with their teachers.
Lesson plans made available placed each lesson within a clear programme of work. At the time of the inspection, the main focus was on revision and consolidation of the year’s work. Lessons were well structured to serve this purpose, and the learning intention was clearly stated in each case. It was noted that the approach to revision avoided a mere recapitulation of prior learning; the emphasis was on creating a deeper understanding of the topics. For example, a junior cycle poetry lesson drew together a number of poems by one poet to identify common threads in the work and to help students towards a soundly based overview. This approach, which develops higher-order skills of selection and synthesis, is commended. Lesson pace was generally well judged so that a substantial amount of work was covered and students had sufficient time to engage well with the planned activities. In a few instances, a preparatory activity was given rather too much time but corrective steps were taken and all lessons were brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
The junior cycle lessons observed covered drama, fiction and poetry. In all cases, the resources and materials prepared were used imaginatively and effectively. The data projector was used to present high-quality visual images, to display the words of poems, and to show extracts from a novel highlighting aspects of descriptive writing. Students in a TY group was using e-learning software (Moodle) as an innovative means of creating personal response journals to record their own thoughts on the novels they were reading, to share these with other members of the group, and to arrive thereby at a clearer understanding both of the novels and of themselves as readers. In a senior cycle lesson dealing with the comparative study, the concepts of vision and viewpoint were explored not only through reference to the chosen comparative texts but also through the reading of an apt poem that was photocopied for the students.
The small size of class groups and the readiness of students to work purposefully together led to the effective use of a range of co-operative and active learning methods, including investigative group work on descriptive writing and a workshop approach to the study of drama. In one lesson, students in groups considered two character descriptions from their class novel with a view to deciding which one was more effective and why. They worked with enjoyment as they arrived at their decision and each group, in reporting findings to the class, was able to support its conclusions. The hallmarks of good character description were then identified and an appropriate writing assignment set. A lesson on drama gave students the opportunity to engage in both ‘hot-seating’ and ‘freeze-framing’ to investigate characters and scenes. Students volunteered to take the hot seat, taking on the persona of a character in the play and responding to questions posed by the class. Following this, small groups of students created tableaux showing key moments of the play. This activity produced clear evidence of student learning in the grasp of characters and situations that was displayed by both actors and audience. The teacher’s role was to set up the activity and to tease out the implications of questions and responses where necessary. The activity was very well executed and productive.
All instances of group work observed were well planned. However, some students were more hesitant and slower to express a view than others. Where this is the case, a ‘think, pair, share’ approach would be appropriate. This allows students to work firstly on their own; prompts can be displayed or given on a handout to help them form initial ideas. They then work in pairs, pooling their thoughts, which are finally shared with the whole class. It is recommended that this approach be discussed with students so that they understand and engage with it fully.
Classroom discussion was purposeful and well directed, and students were encouraged and expected to express their opinions. Where teachers advanced views or expressed ideas, they invited students to react and respond so that a good balance between teacher and student talk was maintained. It was noted, particularly in senior classes, that complex ideas arising from the chosen texts were discussed readily and that simplistic conclusions were avoided. In this way, the possibility of a range of interpretations was underlined, and this is very good practice. The comparative study in particular supports this approach, and students may find it helpful to record specific points of comparison and contrast on a grid, thereby assisting them to read across their selected texts and to identify the juxtapositions that strike them.
Classroom interactions were characterised by warmth and respect. Teachers used questions effectively to involve all students in class discussions and to encourage students to probe issues further. Students asked questions with confidence, not only to seek explanations but also to explore their own responses and to challenge those of others. The learning environment was supportive and inclusive, setting an appropriate level of challenge.
Very good assessment practices were noted during the evaluation. Students’ participation and the work produced in class were closely monitored. Homework was set in good time so that it could be discussed and explained where necessary. Commendably, homework assignments were closely related to class activity, thus reinforcing and extending learning. Assessment for learning has been a focus of whole-staff CPD. It is suggested that it could be applied explicitly to class activities, especially group work, so as to encourage students to reflect on their learning and on what they find most helpful to them.
The folders and copies seen during the inspection showed evidence of a very good volume of work. They were very well maintained and contained helpful developmental feedback from teachers to assist students to address problem areas, as well as affirming comment. The setting of imaginative assignments and of extended writing tasks was noted and is commended.
The extensive documentation gathered by the English department included samples of in-house examinations. These were of a very good quality. Student attainment, both in regular assignments and in formal house examinations, is carefully recorded and monitored. Continuous assessment involving a substantial number of assignments takes place in TY, and this practice is in keeping with the principles of the TY programme.
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 April 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The BOM are grateful for the detailed report on the teaching of English.