An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Irish
Mount Carmel Secondary School
Kings Inn Street, Dublin 1
Roll Number: 60853T
Date of inspection: 28 January 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mount Carmel Secondary School. 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 two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with the students and the teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and to the subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Mount Carmel Secondary School is a post-primary school for girls. The school is situated Dublin city centre and is participating in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) scheme. It was clear from the atmosphere in the school that it is dedicated to learning.
The Irish language has a high status in Mount Carmel Secondary School. The teachers of Irish and the school management are highly commended for the very good level of provision and support afforded the language and to the students in learning the language.
Two fully qualified teachers of Irish are permanently employed on the school staff. At the time of the inspection there was a fully qualified substitute teacher replacing one of them for the current school year. In addition, there was one class group under the care of another fully qualified teacher who was working in the school on a part-time basis. The teachers’ proficiency in oral Irish was satisfactory.
The teachers discuss the classes and the levels to which they teach the subject, among themselves and with the senior management. It is ensured that every teacher gets the opportunity to teach to all levels and the various programmes in turn. This practice is commended as it is important for the teachers’ ongoing professional development and expertise and to further the development of their experience of the various programmes and the different methodologies, and teaching and learning strategies.
The school management is to be praised for the very good level of support that the teachers are given to facilitate their ongoing professional development. There was evidence that the members of staff had just attended some workshops of the Second Level Support Services for Irish and that they gave feedback on the input to the other members of staff. This practice is laudable and it could be further extended by developing a feedback form on courses or on workshops that could be incorporated into the subject plan.
Very good provision is made for Irish in the programmes offered in senior cycle, including the Transition Year (TY) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). This is demonstrated in the provision of a sixth period of Irish for the second year of the established Leaving Certificate and of four class periods for the Irish component of LCA. At Junior Certificate level five class periods are provided weekly for the first years and four periods weekly for the second and third years. While the provision made for the first years is very good, it is recommended that the provision for the other two years in this cycle be extended in order to ensure that the students have a strong basis as they progress to study Irish in the senior cycle.
In first year, the students are assigned to mixed-ability classes. This practice is commendable. The students are allocated to classes based on examination level in second, third, fifth and sixth year. Because the classes are small however, it is possible that the students are studying Irish at different levels within class groups. There is one class group in TY and in keeping with the spirit of the programme it is of mixed ability. Classes are timetabled concurrently to facilitate the students’ access to the subject at a level that best suits their needs. One class group in each year of the junior cycle is participating in the Junior Certificate School Programme. The school management and the Irish teachers are commended for making the same level of provision for Irish for these students as they make for their peers. Students study Gaeilge Chumarsáideach (Communicative Irish) as part of the LCA in the first year of the programme. The provision in the first year of the programme is praiseworthy as it provides continuity from the junior cycle for these students in their learning.
It was reported that 44% of the total number of students enrolled in the school are exempt from the study of Irish. The majority of these students are from abroad. As reported and as noted, the management and the teachers understand that it is important to develop an awareness of Irish culture and the language among all the students. Those students who are exempt are encouraged and supported in studying Irish to the highest level of their ability. It is noteworthy that there were students who had commenced studying Irish on arrival in Ireland in first year and therefore entitled to an exemption, studying Irish at higher level for the Leaving Certificate. The teachers and management are highly commended for the positive attitude they foster in the students towards their learning and the language. Efforts are made to timetable resource, learning support and English as an additional langauge classes for the students who are exempt while Irish classes are in progress. The school management is commended for this arrangement.
The students are classroom based and the rooms have been used to create a supportive Irish language learning environment. The names of the classes are in Irish and Irish signage is visible in the school environment. In addition, there is a new section in the school newsletter called the ‘Coirnéal na Gaeilge’ (Irish Corner). Posters based on the Leaving Certificate literature course were developed by the teachers themselves, and samples of the students’ work on the subject were displayed on the walls of the classrooms. All of this work contributed greatly to the creation of an atmosphere and environment in which Irish could be used. This work is very praiseworthy.
There is a very good provision of resources for the teaching of Irish. There is a specific storage space for the Irish resources in the staff room and in the corridor outside it. The resources are up to date and well organised. In addition a good supply of games, drama props and other materials have been developed and are in use in the classes. Another important development being undertaken at the time of the inspection was the collection of Irish books in the school library. It is worth noting that there were newspapers in Irish and reference books already available in the library, and it was obvious that the school library, a very important resource with its computers and connection to the internet, is available to the students, supports their learning and is used by them. The Irish teachers and the management are highly commended for their timetabling of Irish classes for every year-group in the school’s computer room. This is evidence of their constant efforts to incorporate Information and Communication Technology (ICT) with the methodologies and teaching and learning strategies that are commonly used. Laptop computers, overhead projectors, televisions and CD/DVD players were also available.
The Irish department in the school is formally established. Since there are only two teachers of Irish on the permanent teaching staff of the school, they divide the duties of the coordinator between them. They have regular meetings with all the other teachers of Irish both formally and informally. Minutes of the formal meetings are made available to senior management. In addition, the teachers arrange meetings with the senior management to discuss relevant issues, for example to discuss the time allocation for Irish. The teachers of Irish are highly commended for the work they do and for the cooperation which they have developed with senior management for the purpose of furthering the progress of the Irish language in the school.
The development of opportunities for the students to use the language and experience the culture outside formal class situations is at the core of the school’s work in promoting Irish. A wide range of activities is arranged during Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish week) with special emphasis on Irish dancing, music, drama and singing, aspects of which are woven into the formal Irish lessons also. Students are awarded scholarships in order to attend summer colleges in the Gaeltacht and two of these are presented each year through a scheme of the Dublin Institute of Technology Community Links Programme. ‘Gradam na Gaeilge’ a distinction in Irish, is presented to a student from the junior cycle and from the senior cycle who makes the best progress in the learning of Irish each year. This work is highly commended.
The school plan for Irish was of very good quality. The plan shows that progressive work has been done on it over a number of years and that it is monitored and reviewed from year to year. The approach to developing the plan is highly commended. It is clear from the plan and the discussion that was held that there is a high level of cooperation between the teachers of Irish. The plan is comprehensive and incorporates the short-term and long-term plans for every year group and for the different levels. Included in these plans are plans for the LCA, JCSP, TY and common plans for first-year classes. These plans were of very good quality and they were laid out according to the school term and delineated the methodologies and teaching and learning strategies to be used. It is worth mentioning that the plan, the subject content and other teaching resources for Irish are saved on a memory stick which is shared by the Irish teachers.
The Irish language teaching staff are particularly praised for the long term aims they have identified for planning. These include the development of policies on the JCSP, LCA and TY programmes and work in the area of Assessment for Learning (AfL). It was clear from the evidence available and from the structured interview conducted during the inspection, that the teachers recognise that the work of developmental planning for the subject is ongoing, that it helps them to achieve and apply the aims they have identified.
The planning work demonstrated that the the centrality of assessment in teaching and learning is recognised. An important aspect of planning is the cooperative planning for the assessment of classes studying at the same levels and differentiation in examinations. The quality of the planning done for assessment is very good.
In order to guide the further development of the plans for the different year groups and for the various levels, it is recommended that a framework of the expected learning outcomes be created. This work should be based on the language skills, functions and notions as referred to in the syllabuses. It is acknowledged that the classroom language needed by the students is developed. It should be noted that this could be included in the programme for first year. Regarding the plan for TY, it is recommended that the content be further developed and that advantage be taken of the year in order to develop students’ awareness of Irish today and in the local area. In adition, it is recommended that wider use be made of a range of literary texts apart from those that are on the prescribed Leaving Certificate course so that the skills needed by the students for handling literary texts be developed. The students could also be given responsibility, under the guidance of the teacher, for the organsation and running of Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish week) as part of a project, for example.
The planning and preparation for the majority of the lessons observed was of very good quality. The subject matter was in keeping with the plan for Irish and with the requirements of the syllabus. The teachers are applauded for the resources and the materials chosen and developed and especially for the equipment for drama, language and ICT resources chosen to support the students in their learning.
The quality of the teaching and learning of Irish in most of the lessons observed was very good and the work was undertaken in a lively and professional manner.
The roll was called in Irish in every class. This is good practice. It was noted in some instances that the students were able to explain absences in Irish. This merits high praise as it shows that the everyday language of the classroom is taught to the students and that it is used. This practice should be extended.
At the beginning of the lesson the aim was explained to the students, and in some cases the different activities to be undertaken during this lesson also. This practice is laudable. It is recommended however that it be developed further so that the learning outcomes expected at the end of class would be shared with the students. It is also recommended that an opportunity be taken at the end of a class period to ask the students to reflect on their learning. The students could be asked a question for example, ‘What is the new vocabulary you learned today?’ This practice would support the AfL work already started by the department.
It was evident in the lessons observed that there was regular continuity in the learning experiences of the students, and that the development of their language skills and of the various aspects of the language was progressive. This approach is highly commended. Prior knowledge, homework, written or rote learning, were all checked at the start of each lesson. This was very praiseworthy.
A notable strength in the teaching and learning of Irish in Mount Carmel Secondary School is the creation of situations that give the students the opportunity to be active in their own learning and which enable them to use the language for real communication. A suitable range of effective methodologies and strategies for teaching and learning were used in this work. These included the use of drama and relevant props in the work on literature in senior cycle. The clever way in which drama was used to help the students recall the principal characters, their traits and their roles and to encourage and inspire the students to read a text dramatically are particularly noteworthy. This approach ensured that most of the work was done orally. When it is not possible to assign each student a part, it is recommended that worksheets be prepared for the ‘audience’ to complete while viewing. The ‘audience’ should provide feedback and this opportunity could be used to stimulate oral discussion on the content before starting on written tasks.
The school’s resources were used to very good effect in all of the classes. Among these were the school’s ICT facilities: a laptop computer, the computer rooms, appropriate software and internet sites, and the Irish version of the search engine Google which is available at www.google.com/intl/ga/. The instance in which the students’ vocabulary for a particular topic was enriched and reinforced and in which the development of the language skills was integrated through the assignment of a variety of tasks based on a common theme is highly commended. This work was done in the school’s computer room where a computer was available for each student to study independently of each other, and where it was possible to organise them in groups when necessary. The group work was well-organised. Different genres of music were played for the students and they had to identify them, write their answers on worksheets and then feedback was collected from the various groups. A search was conducted of an internet site to find worksheets in which the students would have to identify various musical instruments. A game of charades was played based on the musical instruments and this work was particularly praiseworthy because the students had to use whole sentences as well as adjectives in their responses. This exercise was used to illustrate and to remind the students of grammar points and to ask them challenging questions according to their ability.
In another instance, the students were gathered in a circle and they had to ask questions of each other and they had to answer negatively or positively using the copula and the vocabulary that they had learned based on a particular topic. This was made into a game in which they had to throw a ball to a student they nominated and then that student had to answer the question, and so on. The practice that the students are getting at asking questions as well as answering them is highly praised as this will be invaluable in enabling them to be active participants in conversation.
As observed, great emphasis was placed on the development of students’ cultural awareness and its integration with formal classwork. For example, Irish dance was integrated with work on numbers and directions and songs in Irish were being taught to the students, including the National Anthem. Additionally, software pertaining to ogham stones was used as preparation for artwork that they had to fashion with potter’s clay. This work ensured that cross-curricular links were being forged and that the students were being given opportunities to use their experience and skills from art in the Irish class. This work is highly commended because it illustrates the wide experience of language and culture that is provided for the students, and that a lot of thought and planning is put into the integration of the various aspects of the courses and the effective execution of lessons. It is recommended however that the students have all the necessary terminology for their work in Irish; the names of the instruments and of the materials they might use, as well as the descriptive adjectives for the different qualities of the ogham stones. This would ensure that Irish was to the fore in the Irish lesson.
Irish was the medium of instruction and of class management in all of the classes. It was evident that this was the usual experience in most cases. It was evident from observation and interacting with the students in the majority of the classes, and from the results of the state examinations, that it is expected that the students will reach a high level of achievement according to their abilities. The students’ behaviour was exemplary and they were mannerly and cooperative. The teachers and the management are commended for their high expectations of and the standards they set for the students in their learning of Irish and for their holistic development.
A suitable range of assessment modes is used. Assessment of the students, who are in third and sixth year, includes their participation in class, class and house exams, as well as mock exams for the state examinations. The well-established school practice of including all language skills when assessing the students’ learning in house and in mock state examinations is highly commended. This practice accords with the aims and objectives of the syllabuses.
Common examinations are set as far as possible. This practice is highly commended. It ensures that decisions with regard to the assignment of students to classes based on examinations levels can be guided by student achievement on common assessment criteria. The staff is commended also for differentiating the examinations they make available. Homework was given in the classes observed and it was clear that the work is corrected regularly. Notes of praise for the students were made on the written homework. The instances in which the students were given direction on how to improve their work and to make better progress are particularly noteworthy. It is recommended that this practice be extended.
Great praise is due to the orderliness and organisation of the written work reviewed. The various pieces of work in the copybooks were well organised with the date and title on each exercise. The students could use these as valuable references in their work and for their studies.
The Irish department is one of the subject departments involved in an AfL project in which the school is participating. The teachers are highly commended for the learning goals they have chosen and agreed on for trial and execution in the current school year: to share the learning intentions with the students and to develop the students’ capacity to self-assess and to peer-assess.
Formal reports on the achievements of the students are sent home twice a year. In addition to this, the parents are given the opportunity to discuss their daughter’s learning with the teachers once a year in the case of each year group, or more often by way of requesting a special meeting. The students’ school journal is used to keep the parents informed of the students’ progress, and the teachers are commended for also using the journal to communicate positive messages to the students’ homes.
The teachers discuss the achievements of the students in the house and state examinations. This practice is highly praised. It is recommended that an account of the analysis of the students’ achievements in state examinations be included in the plan for Irish together with the reports of the chief examiners which can be accessed on the State Examinations Commission website (www.examinations.ie).
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The Irish language has a high status in Mount Carmel Secondary School. The teachers of Irish and the school management are highly commended for the very good
level of provision and support affordedthelanguage.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for developmet, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Irish and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, November 2009