An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Irish
Holy Family Community School
Rathcoole, County Dublin
Roll Number: 91301D
Date of inspection: 14 May 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Holy Family Community School, Rathcoole. 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 one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and examined students’ work. 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 acting principal and to the acting deputy principal. The Irish teachers were not available for pre-inspection meetings or for feedback meetings. The board of management 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.
The sixty students who achieve the best results in the assessment examinations set before the start of the school year are placed in one band in first year. There are two classes in that band, each of mixed ability. All the remaining students are placed in another band and are streamed into three classes according to ability. The two classes in the first band and the best class in the second band take higher level Irish in first and second year. Those classes have five Irish periods per week. The other two classes in the second band, who take ordinary level Irish, have four periods per week. All classes in both bands in second year have four periods of Irish per week. The same arrangement is in place in third year as in first year, with five periods per week for the three higher-level classes and four periods per week for the two ordinary-level classes. The number of classes taking higher level in third year drops to two classes or one and a half classes depending on the ability of the students in any particular school year. The composition of the classes in first year is reviewed each half-term and the composition of the classes in the other year groups is reviewed twice yearly or as needed.
There are four periods of Irish a week for the classes in Transition Year and five periods a week for fifth and sixth year, which is a satisfactory provision.
Seventy one students from a total of six hundred and ninety one in the school have an exemption from the study of Irish. These exemptions include twenty nine students with learning difficulties, nineteen students who received their education up to the age of eleven outside the state and twenty three students from abroad.
A special class was created this year for a group of students in first year, who had certain learning difficulties but who had attended Irish medium primary schools. The establishment of this special class allowed the students to undertake the higher level in Irish where they were taking other subjects at ordinary level. The school management and Irish teachers are highly commended for providing this excellent opportunity for the students. All students were fluent in Irish and a lesson observed was conducted entirely through Irish. The students took an active part in the discussion about a range of subjects, including the school sports day and bullying issues.
There are few extra-curricular or co-curricular activities in the school to support the teaching and learning of Irish. It was reported that Seachtain na Gaeilge is not celebrated any more in the school although events have been organised in the past. A few events are organised during the year connected with Irish culture, for example, the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) class organise a Hallowe’en party and the Transition Year visits a farm in Co. Meath for a cultural trip but the Irish language has little part to play in either of these two events. A group of students are brought to productions of An Triall when it is being staged in Dublin and this is commended.
It was reported that the school makes a great effort to publicise Gaeltacht summer courses. Students and their parents are notified about the available courses and it was stated that a significant amount of students go to the Gaeltacht at least once before the Junior Certificate. The positive attitude of the school towards these courses is commended and it is recommended that parents be informed also of day courses available in Dublin.
The Irish teachers do not have their own classrooms and as a result it is difficult to create a stimulating Irish atmosphere in the classrooms. There is a certain amount of Irish signage in the school. The school management and Irish teachers are advised to continue to ensure that Irish has a place in the signage and displays erected in the school. It is important to give the language a profile in the school environment in general.
The Irish teachers meet twice a year as a group or more often on an informal basis if necessary. A planning coordinator for the teaching and learning of Irish is nominated each year and each teacher takes the opportunity to assume this role, which is commendable. This means that each teacher has the opportunity to take a leadership role in relation to planning for teaching the language and for the promotion of Irish in the school in general. The coordinator has a commendably wide role and a description was given of the responsibilities associated with the role as follows: organisation and chairing of meetings, the dissemination of information, review of the policy and assessment development, responsibility for resources, assisting new members of staff and consultation with the principal and deputy principal.
Minutes of the most recent meetings were provided in Irish following the inspection. These meetings mostly related to development of the policy statement, registering the school’s Irish resources, whole-school recommendations from the Irish department, timetabling of the classes, textbooks, Transition Year and plans for common examinations.
Planning for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school has commenced. A short policy statement was provided during the inspection which described the school context and the teaching of the language in the school. It contained basic information regarding the organisation of the Irish department, the layout of classes, a list of resources and information on student assessment. A list of topics to be covered in the classes for the Junior Certificate and for the Leaving Certificate was also given. Although the work completed to date in describing the functioning of the Irish department is commended, a much more comprehensive plan must be compiled for the teaching and learning of the language in the school. Such a plan should encompass work schemes for each level and year group containing a precise account of methodologies, communication strategies, a list of resources to be used apart from the textbook and an account of assessment methods. Planning for the use of information and communications technology (ICT) should be an integral part of the plan for teaching and learning the language in the school.
A plan was provided for Transition Year students as part of the general Transition Year plan for the school. The programme appears interesting but it is difficult to assess the plan’s content due to a lack of detail about what the students do from week to week, exactly what workshops are organised, what is on the literature course mentioned and what language games are used. It is strongly recommended that a detailed plan be provided containing a precise and comprehensive account of the year’s programme. It was reported that there is a link between the school and the local Gaelscoil and that students from Holy Family Community School visit the Gaelscoil during Transition Year but there were no details available about those visits during the inspection.
The use of Irish as the language of management, instruction and communication was very good indeed on the whole in the classes observed. A dance class observed was taught entirely through English, however, and though it is accepted that maybe the students had a weak standard of Irish or that there were students in the class who were not taking academic Irish, it was felt that the opportunity was lost to use some Irish, at least, during the lesson. Generally, however, the teachers are commended for their diligence as regards using the target language in the class and as regards avoiding the use of translation from Irish to English to ensure the students’ understanding of the lesson content. Very good attempts were made also in most of the classes to elicit answers in Irish from the students and this approach is commended.
Students were given opportunities for communicating and speaking in Irish in a couple of classes observed by the use of pair work and this approach is commended. Often, however, the only opportunities given to speak Irish were situations in which students had to answer the teacher’s questions. This is not a sufficient opportunity for students to practise and speak the language in the class. It is strongly recommended that the teachers discuss this matter and agree a range of strategies to encourage the students to speak Irish during the classes depending, of course, on the level of ability in the class. It is recommended that regular use be made in all classes of pair work, group work, activities and games as well role-play.
The teachers were dynamic and diligent in charge of the classes observed. Some time was spent circulating around the classroom helping students and ensuring that work was being completed. Discipline was good on the whole and it was felt that the vast majority of the students were working and attentive to what was happening during the lessons. Students made successful efforts on the whole to answer the teachers’ questions in Irish. It was felt that many students had problems with Irish pronunciation and the teachers are advised to correct poor pronunciation without detriment to the student’s self-confidence or speech rhythm.
The white board was used effectively in some classes where new vocabulary, questions and explanations of new vocabulary were written up. In one case observed a large picture of a body was used to illustrate parts of the body and the students were asked to go up to the white board to put up labels corresponding to certain body parts. Apart from the aforementioned items and the textbooks there were few resources used in the classes observed. It is strongly recommended that the range of resources and other materials used in the Irish classes be significantly increased. These help greatly to place the language in a contemporary context for students and this stimulates their interest in learning the language. Music, videos, television programmes, posters and photographs can be used in the classes to make learning the language more relevant and more interesting for students. The Irish language media are a great resource and they should be used regularly.
There are three computer rooms available in the school and it was stated that the Irish teachers use them from time to time to access the Internet and obtain information, to play games and to prepare curriculum vitae and application forms. It is excellent that such a facility is available in the school as a resource to support learning the language. No activities of this kind were observed during the inspection.
One case was observed in which poems from the literature course were being covered. The students were asked to work in pairs to discuss the poems’ themes. Then they were set to work comparing the two poems. The class was effective and the students were asked challenging questions. The students were given explanations of the vocabulary and concepts in simple Irish and answers in Irish were elicited from the students also. It was felt, however, that the students were spread around a very large room and that it would be easier to encourage them to engage in conversation if the room was organised in a different way.
One lesson observed was taught in an effective manner where there were ordinary level and higher-level students in the same class. The lesson focussed on preparation for writing a letter. The teacher had prepared differentiated work and the students at the two levels succeeded in undertaking the work in an organised manner. The planning work done in advance to ensure that the class functioned effectively is commended.
In-house examinations are held in the school at Christmas and in the summer. There are also class examinations before the two mid-term breaks and at Easter. Parents are informed of their children’s progress via two school reports issued after the in-house examinations, meetings with parents and the school diary.
It was reported that there is a formal assessment of spoken Irish in Transition Year and in sixth year and this approach is commended. The school aims to introduce formal assessment of oral skills next year for classes in second and third year. This plan is commended but it would be important to commence this formal assessment in first year in order to remind students from the outset of the importance of this integral aspect of language learning. It is recommended that there be formal assessment of oral skills for fifth year students also.
It was clear from the copybooks observed that the students had completed a significant amount of work and that they were assigned homework regularly. It was felt, however, that more careful and more systematic correction of the homework and class work was needed. The teachers are advised to discuss the question of copybook correction and to agree a system that would assign a grade or mark to the work done as well as formative comments and an account of the student’s progress in general.
The number of students who take higher-level papers in the state examinations at Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate level is quite low although the attainment of those who take higher-level papers is satisfactory. It is recommended that the school management and the Irish teachers discuss this issue in order to increase the number of students taking higher level Irish over time. The attainment of the students taking ordinary-level Irish in state examinations is satisfactory.
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 acting principal and with the acting deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management is satisfied with the inspection report and the strengths identified. The Board is examining the recommendations with a view to their implementation.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Gaeilge Department have expanded the range of resources and c0-curricular activities. It is planned to introduce Junior Certificate Gaeilge Oral Examinations in 2011. All other recommendations have been discussed and are being addressed.