An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
College Street, Cavan
Roll number: 61080S
Date of inspection: 24 November 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Royal School Cavan, carried out 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 one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the headmaster and subject teachers.
Subject provision and whole school support
The Royal School Cavan has a current enrolment of 191 students. Programmes offered in the school include the Junior Certificate and the established Leaving Certificate. The Transition Year programme (TY) is a compulsory first year in senior cycle, so that students complete six years of post-primary education.
Currently, students are allocated to class groups for English based on their ability in the subject. In this way, separate class groups are formed in each year of junior cycle for the study of the higher level and ordinary level courses. It is planned that, from September 2009, mixed-ability class groups will be formed in junior cycle and the decision about the level at which English will be studied for certificate examination will be delayed until the second term in second year. This is a very good proposal and is encouraged as it will allow students ample time to settle into their studies in English and provide teachers with an opportunity to develop a very good knowledge of their studentsí abilities in the subject. It is suggested that the setting of a common examination for all students at the end of first year should be a key element in this new arrangement. Students in senior cycle are afforded the opportunity to study English at higher and ordinary levels and separate class groups are formed for each of these courses. Concurrent timetabling enables students who wish to do so to change levels where appropriate.
The school has high expectations of studentsí participation in the higher level courses in both junior and senior cycles. As a consequence, uptake at higher level for certificate examinations is good.
There is good whole-school support for English in this school. Timetabled provision for the subject is in line with syllabus guidelines and the allocation of a sixth lesson in fifth year is indicative of the support offered to students to help them achieve in certificate examinations. The assignment of teachers to classes takes due recognition of their expertise and experience of teaching English and ensures that the school maintains the professional competence to deliver the subject to the highest level.
Teachers have been assigned their own base rooms and, in some instances, they have taken the opportunity to display studentsí work and other learning materials in their classrooms. There is scope to do more in this regard, however. All classrooms are broadband-enabled, though in the majority of the rooms visited, the information and communications technology (ICT) available was dated and slow. The school has developed an ICT plan so that, as resources allow, hardware will be updated. Televisions, data projectors and video equipment are available for teachersí use.
The school has a dedicated library space to which students have limited access at lunch time and they are encouraged to borrow books to read in their free time. This is supplemented by a weekly reading class for first year students. It is suggested that all junior cycle class groups would benefit from the inclusion of time for reading in the English department plan.
The school is commended for the variety of co-curricular activities available to students. Expeditions to the theatre to see professional productions of studied plays, together with participation in debating competitions, provide students of English with valuable learning experiences and the commitment of the staff to providing these is commended.
Planning and preparation
The school provides an opportunity for the English teaching team to meet formally once a term. Very brief minutes of these meetings were available for inspection. It is suggested that, in order to extend their usefulness to the teachers, minutes should record who attended meetings and a summary of the issues raised. The three teachers of English work collaboratively and their work is co-ordinated by one teacher on a voluntary basis. Together, the team has developed a plan for the subject. It outlines the organisational arrangements for the subject and was augmented by a very impressive selection of teacher-generated notes. However, there is a strong focus in the plan on the content to be covered rather than on the language and critical skills to be taught. As planning progresses in the school, it is recommended that the teachers of English should further develop the current plan by adding an indicative list of intended learning outcomes to be achieved by each year group, beginning with first year. This would provide teachers with a specific context within which the notes given to students could be placed and provide clear direction for teaching in the classroom. It is recommended that a review of the planned texts for study in senior cycle should ensure that students taking the ordinary level course are provided with opportunities to engage with a wide range of genres. Teachers should consult the syllabus documentation when reviewing the planned programmes.
Teachers of the TY class plan their work independently and two outlines for English were available for inspection. There was a commendable focus on literature in both and the inclusion of the study of film makes very good use of the audio-visual facilities available in the English classroom. In order to ensure that the TY English programme serves to broaden studentsí encounters with a variety of literary texts, care should be taken at the planning stage to ensure that the film chosen for study in TY is not based on the drama studied in junior cycle.
Teachersí individual planning is in line with the schedules of work agreed at department level, supplemented with class notes and other resources. It is recommended that, as teachers develop these plans further in the context of subject department planning, they should augment the current programme descriptions by adding explicit learning objectives to be achieved by each class group. This would add to the coherence between the department plan and individual teacher plans and provide a context for choice of teaching methodologies and assessment methods used to measure studentsí progress.
Teaching and learning
The lessons observed were well-prepared and competently executed. This was evident in the use of appropriate stimulus materials and learning resources. A clear sense of purpose was established and teachers built on prior learning, through a review of homework or through questioning, to provide a focus for the lesson. In one class, for example, a brief question-and-answer session reminded students of the action in a drama text and the teacher used a crossword puzzle to extend this work. This helped to establish links between material already covered and new ideas being introduced. It is suggested that a clear statement of the learning intention should be shared with students at the beginning of all lessons.
The predominant teaching strategy used to engage students in the learning activities planned in the lessons observed was questioning. This led to some discussion and, though students were often reticent, their responses were encouraged and very positively affirmed by teachers. Questioning allowed teachers to check studentsí understanding and to facilitate new learning. Teachers were skilful in encouraging students to move beyond simple recall to develop their answers and observation of studentsí work in their copies indicated that they are regularly referred to their texts to find support for their opinions and arguments. The board can be particularly useful at the closing stage of lessons, to record studentsí contributions and provide a summary of the key ideas discussed. New vocabulary and quotations can also be reinforced in this way. Where teachers provided opportunities for students to work independently or encouraged them to discuss each otherís work, greater student involvement in the learning process was observed.
The variety and quality of the notes and other support materials which teachers made available to students is indicative of their commitment to the subject and their careful planning for learning. Material is drawn from a number of sources to supplement work done in class and students are encouraged to keep this information in folders. Studentsí homework assignments, once corrected, is also included in the folders. In some instances, however, it was noted that essay frames or skeletons included too much detail and the scope for students to make their own contributions and develop an authentic response was limited. It is suggested that teachers should review their use of notes in order to ensure that students have sufficient experience of exploring and inferring meaning for themselves. For example, studentsí contributions to classroom discussion could be reframed by the teacher and used to build the notes that are distributed. This would provide a way of valuing studentsí work and of demonstrating that they can develop the skills of literary criticism. Finding a balance between student-generated material and teacher-distributed notes is important, as it allows students to engage with texts directly, forming their own responses rather than simply developing a familiarity with some one elseís interpretation of the texts.
Studentsí responses to teacher questions indicated that they have a good knowledge of the texts they are studying. In many cases, their comments were insightful and indicated that they had achieved an appreciation of how writers use language to communicate their ideas. Less able students struggle to infer meaning for themselves and are supported by the notes provided by teachers. However, across the ability range, students demonstrated the capacity to address the questions set and to extract relevant detail in texts to support their ideas. There was evidence of some weaknesses in expression and in mastery of syntax in the written work reviewed during the evaluation. These, however, reflected the relative abilities of students in the subject and are being addressed by teachers. Overall, students are making good progress through their courses.
Studentsí progress in English is regularly assessed through questions, short tests and homework to identify how well students are learning. An examination of studentsí notebooks indicated a good range of work covered, with sufficient opportunities being provided for students to write extended pieces. Exercises set are designed to build knowledge and understanding of material covered and the quality of oral feedback to students was very good. Homework is corrected promptly and, though it was not observed during this evaluation, the facility for students to engage in self and peer-evaluation, described in the planning documentation for English, is very good practice. Nevertheless, it was noted that grades/marks are, in the majority of cases, not accompanied by a comment on the strengths and difficulties evident in exercises set. It is recommended that this kind of information about the quality of their work should be provided to students where appropriate.
First, second and fourth-year students have formal assessments at the end of the Christmas term and non-examination classes are also assessed again at the end of the summer term each year. TY students are assessed three times during the year. Mock examinations are organised for certificate examination classes in the spring term. Reports issue to parents following each formal assessment. All parents are invited to meet the teachers of English at a parent-teacher meeting once a year.
Summary of main findings and recommendations
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 headmaster at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2009