An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Killina Presentation Secondary School
Rahan, Tullamore, County Offaly
Roll number: 65630B
Date of inspection: 26 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Killina Presentation Secondary School, conducted 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.
Killina Presentation Secondary School is a co-educational, voluntary second-level school that provides English in the Junior Certificate (JC) programme, Transition Year (TY) programme, Leaving Certificate (LC) programme and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Students in the LC and LCVP follow the same English syllabus.
Timetabling allocation is generally satisfactory. Four lessons are provided in first year and five in second and third year. TY has three lessons and fifth and sixth years have five lessons per week. However, in some instances, the distribution of lessons should be reviewed. For example, a fifth-year LC group has two lessons on one day, and none on another. Students should have contact with English on each day of the week. The timing of lessons in some instances does not ensure optimum learning conditions: in the case of the sixth year, in three cases out of five, lessons take place during periods seven, eight or nine when students and teachers are most tired. One first-year group has two of their four lessons at period nine, the last of the day.
Students are placed in mixed-ability classes in first year. At the end of the year, a common examination is held and this determines access to higher-level and ordinary-level English in second and third year. However, individual circumstances are taken into account and the school is responsive to parental concerns in this regard. Students are facilitated to change levels if this is considered desirable because lessons are timetabled concurrently. Movement takes place only after discussion with students. Where possible, classes retain the same teacher from second to third and from fifth to sixth year and this helps to ensure continuity.
The school encourages as many students as possible to take higher-level English. Uptake of the higher level reveals an upward trend in recent times and this is very positive. Students achieve good outcomes in the state examinations. Some ordinary-level students particularly achieve good results and this indicates very good teaching and learning. The team and school should monitor this trend. It is possible that some students may be over achieving at the lower level and may be capable of higher-level English. This has implications for career paths. An analysis of outcomes over a number of years should take place and where a trend of over-achievement is identified, the school as a whole should develop strategies aimed at raising expectations.
The subject is taught by a committed, conscientious and enthusiastic teaching team. Seven teachers are currently deployed in mainstream English and have the subject to degree level. Deployment is good on the whole and plays to the strengths of the individual teachers. Most teachers have significant contact with English. However, it is also noted that in a couple of instances, teachers have one first-year class only (excluding resource hours provided to individual students). While it is accepted that there may be issues around timetabling and the demands of other subjects, best practice suggests that teachers should have substantial commitment to English in order to deepen experience. It is suggested that page eight of Looking at English, a composite report on the teaching and learning of English published by the Department of Education and Science (2006) be consulted. This report is downloadable at www.education.ie. Some of the mainstream teaching team are also deployed in the area of learning support, resource teaching and the Resource Centre for students with moderate general learning disabilities. This widens experience and encourages integration.
Some teachers have engaged in continuous professional development (CPD) courses, for example, creative writing, and it is reported that information is shared with all team members. To build on existing good practice, the team should develop a CPD policy, should carry out an analysis of training needs and draw up a list of targets and priorities. An example that the team itself identified was further training in information and communication technology (ICT). It is reported that this has taken place in the past. In-house coaching could be facilitated by management since there is sufficient expertise on the staff and among the teaching team.
The school also has a learning-support team and some teachers have particular responsibility for the resource centre for students with moderate general learning disabilities. There is good liaison between the teachers of mainstream English and the learning-support department, both formal and informal. The school has three qualified learning-support teachers and a number of other teachers are deployed in the area. Students with additional learning needs are identified through a variety of mechanisms including pre-entry testing, information from primary schools, referral and communication with parents. Learning support is organised through a combination of withdrawal of individual students and small classes. This academic year, a designated foundation-level class in second year was formed for English. The group is very small and students receive individual attention. Paired reading is practised. Teachers are conscious of differentiation in lessons and this is commended. Students with special educational needs are well supported in a caring atmosphere and it is reported that resources are good in the area.
The school has adequate resources for the teaching and learning of mainstream English. It is reported that access to audio-visual resources has improved in recent times. Teachers have access to audio tape recorders, DVD/video players, televisions and sets of class novels. Management responds positively to requests for resources. Storage is available in the staff workroom, a substantial space adjacent to the staffroom. Access to ICT is good for both teachers and students: the school has a computer room and a mobile data projector both of which can be booked by teachers. There are broadband-enabled computers in the staff workroom and this facilitates research. Students are also encouraged to research material on the internet and it is reported that they are given lists of recommended websites. It is recommended that further resources be developed in the area of ICT.
Reading is encouraged and a box of books is rotated around the first-year classes. Last year, a reading week was held in April. Of particular note is the school’s commitment to the building of a library and already, much has been done. Fundraising activities are currently being planned to finance additional books. The library is a compact and centrally located room and a book stock is already established. The room has a computer but it is not wired for broadband. The room should be configured to maximise space (for example, shelving should be attached to the walls) and tables should be acquired. The library is currently being used as a base for the storage of class sets of books for the book rental scheme. Alternative storage for these should be sought in order to retain the library as a dedicated centre for student research and reading for pleasure. To help develop the library further, the school should consider contacting the County Offaly library services and also access information through the School Library Association of Ireland (SLARI) at www.slari.ie.
A variety of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities enrich students’ experience of English. They attend theatre and participate in drama and variety shows. A visiting drama group has also been invited to the school in the past. Some years ago, students were involved in a very fruitful trip to Inniskeen to explore the homeland of the poet Patrick Kavanagh. Students were also involved in the production of a booklet in honour of the poet’s centenary. Other research projects involved the poet Francis Ledwidge. These activities are highly commended and consideration should be given to pursuing other opportunities of this kind. Recently, one of the students won a story competition and her entry is due for publication.
A good start has been made in the area of collaborative planning for English and an outline plan has been documented. Formal meetings take place during staff meeting days and staff planning days. Minutes of meetings are kept. The department also meets informally and there is a good level of collaboration and collegiality. Staff members regularly engage in professional dialogue and this is highly commended. The teaching team has a democratic attitude to co-ordination: a different teacher chairs each meeting and acts in the role of convenor. During the course of the evaluation, the team was conscious of the fact that administratively, this practice was counter-productive and a member of the department has now undertaken the role of co-ordination. This augurs well for future planning endeavour. As a preliminary step, the team should define the role of the co-ordinator. The delegation of tasks to individuals should be part of the role of co-ordinator and this would help to eliminate duplication of tasks such as the setting of common papers. The role of co-ordinator could be rotated on an annual basis, or preferably, and in order to ensure some measure of continuity, for periods of two years.
The team should now focus on developing and completing the plan for English. To inform discussion and planning, the teachers should consult Looking at English and also Learning Anew: Final Report of the Research and Development Project (2007) that was based on the initiative Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century co-ordinated by the National University of Ireland Maynooth (www.nuim.ie). There should be a strong emphasis on learning outcomes and skills as outlined in the syllabuses for both junior and senior cycle English. The plan for English should ensure that students gain experience of English in the areas of speaking and listening as well as reading and writing. A timeframe for syllabus delivery should be clearly outlined in order to ensure consistency in all classes and to ensure that students have covered the course in good time for “mock” and state examinations. In a very small minority of cases there were concerns in this regard.
There is general discussion regarding choice of texts in Presentation Secondary School, Killina. At LC texts are chosen individually to suit classes and teachers. At junior level, the core texts are chosen jointly, taking account of those that are already in stock for the book rental scheme. The number of novels and plays read by students depends on the individual teacher and practice appears to vary. The plan indicates that one novel (possibly two in some cases) and one play are studied over the two years, second and third year. Only higher-level students do the Shakespearean play. An anthology is also used. It is reported that other texts are also used as resources by individual teachers. The department should ensure that all students are experiencing a rich, diverse selection of texts especially in the junior cycle and there should be a particular focus on the experience of ordinary-level students. This is best achieved through discussion and agreement and all of the texts used should be listed in the plan. As many students as possible should have access to Shakespeare in some form (reading, listening, attending a performance, seeing a film). The team might find it helpful to consult the chief examiner’s report on JC English (2006) and the concern expressed therein with regard to the narrow range of texts being chosen nationally for the junior cycle. It is available at www.examinations.ie.
It is very commendable that the plan for English dedicates a section to first year. There is a clear awareness that first years are making a transition from primary school. The section lists the areas that feature on JC examination papers (reading, composing, functional writing, media studies, poetry, fiction, drama). Objectives are listed in the area of accuracy of punctuation and the mechanics of writing and there is also a list of general concepts, for example, the hero, and point of view: this is commended. To develop this further, the texts that will be used to highlight the learning of these concepts should be documented. More explicit reference should be made to the syllabus. The English plan lists just one text for first year, a commercial anthology. The plan should list a range of texts in a variety of genres. In planning for first-year English, the team should liaise with feeder primary schools to ensure that there is no overlap between texts chosen. It would be very helpful to access the primary curriculum at www.curriculumonline.ie. Note should be taken of skills and competencies already gained in the four strand areas of English specified and these are: receptiveness to language, competence and confidence in using language, developing cognitive abilities through language and emotional and imaginative development through language. Planning for first-year English should build a bridge from these strands.
The plan for second and third year reflects a consciousness of the need to build and develop skills and this is commendable. It would be helpful if the skills were fully listed and if planned learning outcomes were documented. The texts to be used should be specified. These should be regularly reviewed to avoid staleness, notwithstanding the constraints imposed by the book-rental scheme. At least one novel and one play should be studied in each year of the junior cycle in addition to short stories and other genres. Reading for pleasure should also be encouraged. A full list of the poems and poet’s work should be included. It is commendable that students will be able to write in a variety of genres as a result of their learning in second and third year. More details should be included and individual planning should implement this objective.
The TY programme puts a very good emphasis on writing process and on speaking and this is highly commended. However this section of the English plan is very vague and lacks detail. Individual planning documentation compensated for this deficit. However, individual planning should reflect the department plan. Therefore the TY programme as currently outlined in the English plan should be reviewed and completed. In the TY English programme, students engage in public speaking and debating and are encouraged to look at a variety of texts including biography and autobiography. In the second term, students do a module on film studies and the media and in the final term they collect work for a magazine. To build on this, the school should consider entering the TY group for The Irish Times School Mag Competition and information is available at www.irishtimesschoolmag.ie. The senior cycle plan reflects the aims and objectives of the syllabus but there is no record of texts that are chosen, these being left to the discretion of the individual teacher. The texts should be listed.
To complement the good work already being done with regard to the promoting of reading by individual teachers and in individual year groups, it is recommended that the English department develop a comprehensive reading policy and that this policy be implemented consistently in all year groups in both the junior and senior cycle.
The plan for English includes a checklist for supporting students with SEN. This is a useful document and is commended.
Lesson preparation was generally good. Individual teachers presented schemes of work and some of these were very well developed. Good practice should be shared in this regard. Planning took account of a variety of learning styles in many cases. A good range of teaching aids and resources, including recordings, acetates for the overhead projector, newspapers, worksheets, and pictures, had been prepared in advance to ensure the smooth operation of the lesson.
Seven lessons were observed as part of the evaluation and content ranged over poetry, media studies, fiction, comprehension and writing skills. In most cases the material was well chosen and appropriate to level. All lessons observed were purposeful and well structured and the pace was appropriate in most. In a few, the pace should be reviewed. Lesson time was efficiently used. However, in one instance, lack of punctuality on the part of students returning from games activities at lunch time disrupted the learning environment and eroded lesson time. This is a matter that requires attention at whole-school level. It would greatly help students to focus on their learning if the learning intention were shared with them. Therefore it is recommended that planned learning outcomes (perhaps expressed in “I can do” type statements at junior level) are explained to students and written on the board at the start of lessons.
Questioning strategies were varied, with a good balance between open and closed questioning. Best practice was noted where there was sufficient emphasis on soliciting students’ opinions and encouraging them to make evaluative judgments. In one instance, very good practice was observed where students were afforded an opportunity to write down their initial response to a poem. In a few cases, questioning strategy should be reviewed to include a greater variety of questions, to avoid the overuse of leading or closed questions and to ensure that questions are sufficiently graded. Questions should be targeted at individuals to discourage chorus answers, to ensure that all are on task and to prevent a few confident individuals from dominating the class. In the latter case, good practice was observed in one instance and this tendency was clearly discouraged. Care should be taken to give students sufficient time to formulate their answers.
Resources used were imaginative and included the use of taped music. This is commended. Good use was made of the board to organise information and record key points or key words required for the lesson. A graphic illustration was used to demonstrate a concept and this is very good practice. It is also very positive that visual material, for example, pictures were used as a teaching aid; however, care should be taken to ensure that the quality and size is sufficient to be visible to all students. More use could be made of ICT in this regard and high-quality slides could be downloaded from the internet. Apart from one lesson that took place in the computer room, there was no evidence of the integration of ICT into teaching and learning and this is an area for development. In one lesson, students were using the computer to draft articles for a magazine or newspaper based on collaborative research into a range of newspapers and this is commended.
Active learning methodologies were used. Particularly commended was effective group work. This was well organised. Students were assigned specific tasks and reported back in a plenary session to the teacher who recorded the information on the board. Best practice was observed where clearly defined roles were assigned to individual students and the exercise was time bound. Such good practice should be extended to all lessons. Independent learning is encouraged, for example, through the setting of research tasks. Collaborative learning is facilitated through group and project work. Teachers are highly commended for encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning and for facilitating them to do so.
A range of skills was developed in various lessons. A good level of engagement was noted in almost all of the classes visited. This was particularly observed in lessons where the range of activities was varied, there was a fair balance between teacher talk and student activity, all students were monitored and questioned to ensure that they were on task, the material was interesting and there was an emphasis on collaborative and independent learning.
Copybooks indicated that a very good range of material has been covered in most classes. However, it is also noted that in a minority of cases, there is a need for more emphasis on personal and creative writing. In a very small minority of cases, more written work should be assigned and more work should be covered in general. In most cases, high expectations were set with regard to quality and presentation of work. This should be extended to all classes. In a small number of cases, more substantial written exercises should be given in the junior cycle in order to develop writing skills.
Classes were well managed and students learned in a supportive, caring and respectful learning environment. Good practice was also observed where teachers moved around to monitor students’ engagement and to ensure that all were concentrating on their tasks. This good practice should be extended to all. There were some stimulating displays in classrooms visited and this created a positive atmosphere for the subject.
Each student in the school has a report book in which results of examinations are recorded. This ensures continuity and helps in recording progress. The school has a homework policy. The student journal is used to communicate with home and to record homework and this is implemented in most cases. In addition to formal reports and the journal, communication with parents takes place through letters and phone calls, and parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group.
A variety of assessment modes is used, some at an individual teacher level. In some cases, project work and participation in activities are included in assessment. A combination of continuous assessment and in-class tests that are held at the discretion of individual teachers is used to inform assessment in the Christmas reports that are sent home to parents. It is commendable that at the end of the year, a common examination is held for first year students and a common marking scheme is agreed. Further opportunities for common assessment appropriate to level should be explored to build on the good practice that exists in first year. This would also help to harmonise syllabus delivery as well as saving time wasted duplicating the designing of examination papers.
In-class assessment takes place through questioning and through oral feedback on assignments and on written and other activity in class. In one example, students read from their work and this facilitated peer assessment and reflection. This represents good practice. Homework is set in all classes. Best practice was noted where there was a clear link between the lesson observed and homework assignment. It is commendable that there is an emphasis on assessment for learning. For example, some very good practice was observed where some teachers annotated students’ monitored homework assignments with good quality feedback. This good practice should be extended widely so that students’ learning can be progressed and useful information gleaned from assessment practice. Senior cycle students in particular benefited from quality written feedback. The dating of monitored homework is also good practice.
Summative assessment takes place through formal in-house examinations held at the end of the academic year and individual teachers also hold class tests. “Mock” examinations are held for the LC and JC examination classes in the spring term and the papers are set and marked externally.
While all teachers kept records of some kind, and most kept accurate attendance and assessment records, the practice of good record keeping was not universal. Very good record keeping was observed in some cases. The English department should develop policy and practice regarding record keeping and document this in the plan for English. The policy should be fully implemented by all teachers. Accurate records allow teachers to give useful information to students and parents and also inform planning and lesson delivery. In addition, the English department should share good practice that was observed in relation to the variety of assessment modes being used in many classes and should document policy and practice in relation to assessment. It would be helpful to consult the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website, and also, Looking at English and Learning Anew.
An informal analysis is carried out in the case of the state examination results. The team should consider analysing the outcomes of all summative assessment to glean information on teaching strategies and to analyse trends with a view to taking action should this be necessary.
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 at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2008