An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
Maynooth Post-Primary School
Maynooth, Co. Kildare
Roll number: 70700A
Date of inspection: September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in English
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Maynooth Post Primary 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 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. 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.
In Maynooth Post-primary School, whole-school provision and support for the teaching of English is generally good. Six periods are allocated to English in fifth and sixth year and five in the junior cycle and this represents good provision. While there are just three periods in the Transition Year, the cohort receives additional drama lessons and this subject area complements English. In general the distribution of lessons is good. Classes are banded in first year. Allocation to classes is based on a range of criteria, including entrance assessment tests, interviews with primary school teachers and consultation with parents. Within the bands, the classes are of mixed ability with two weaker classes in which the numbers are small. There is some movement at the end of first year based on assessment and teacher observations but generally students remain in the same class group from first to third year and, where possible, retain the same teacher, thus ensuring continuity. In the senior cycle the guidance department advises students on the career implications of opting for higher or ordinary level and this is positive. It would be wise to factor this intervention into the junior cycle also, since decisions made at this stage will affect the senior cycle and future career paths. The uptake of higher-level English in Maynooth is good. Lessons are timetabled concurrently in third, fifth and sixth year and this facilitates movement. Some teachers also take advantage of concurrency to arrange inter-class activities and this is commendable. Further opportunities of this kind are worth exploring, including team-teaching.
The subject is taught by a very committed teaching team with a range of experience. Members of the teaching team have taken advantage of a variety of in-service training and other forms of continuous professional development (CPD), and have engaged in the TL 21 project (Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century) project organised by Maynooth University. This level of engagement with CPD represents an on-going commitment to the subject and promotes a climate of innovation and self-evaluation. Since there is a strong collaborative ethos in the department, and professional dialogue takes place on an informal basis, departmental meetings could provide a formal framework for the exchange of ideas on methodologies and other relevant pedagogical themes.
The English department appreciates the value of reading and this is reflected in departmental documentation. A weekly reading for pleasure period is built into the first-year programme. The students bring in their own books. Some members of the team take or have taken their first-year classes to Maynooth public library to introduce them to the services available and to encourage them to join. This is highly commended and management should consider establishing this as a core practice. Initiatives such as boxes of books and attractive displays of books are strategies that could also be considered. Other year groups are encouraged to read but the period allocated is left to individual discretion. It is recommended that the reading policy be reviewed to ensure consistent implementation of the departmental approach laid down in the subject plan. A couple of classrooms visited had posters that encouraged the reading habit. This is commended. The school library is inadequate for present needs and is used largely as a classroom. However, the new building project should free up space and it is reported that a considerable level of investment is to be ring-fenced for the provision of a fully functioning, modern library that will facilitate interactive learning, independent research and reading for pleasure. This is a timely development as the school library should be a core strand of a whole-school approach to literacy and to reading.
Some teachers are classroom based but there is considerable pressure on space at present, a situation that should ease considerably when the new building is complete. The department has access to a fair range of audio-visual equipment. However, sharing is necessary and this can pose logistical challenges. Moreover, it is reported that delays can occur in securing the necessary funding for DVDs and/or videos of films. This is a matter that the department is currently addressing with a view to developing its procedures, especially given the importance of immediate access to prescribed material for the Leaving Certificate syllabus. English teachers have access to a resource cupboard. The department folder contains the TL 21 resources, for example graphic organisers and writing frames, both on CD and in hard copy and teachers should ensure that they are integrating these useful aids into their individual schemes and lesson plans.
Information and communications technology (ICT) resources are unsatisfactory for class access at present but it is anticipated that this will improve with the new building. There is one computer for staff use in the staff room. Some teachers of English who are post-holders or are involved in guidance also have access to computers in their offices. The English department does not have easy and convenient access to a data projector. The use of ICT is a matter that needs to be addressed by the English department since, apart from individual teacher research, and some ad hoc use through brief research projects (for example, looking up information on the internet at home) the use of ICT does not appear to be integrated in any consistent way into the teaching and learning of English. Attention is drawn to both teacher guidelines and resource materials documents published by the NCCA and the Department of Education and Science for the Leaving Certificate syllabus in which specific reference is made to the use of ICT.
A range of co- and extra-curricular activities complements the teaching and learning of English. Students attend theatre outings and have been involved in public speaking competitions. Students have also entered writing competitions and participate in the MS Readathon competition. Fifth-year students stage a musical.
The English department is characterised by a strong collaborative ethos. Teachers of English meet regularly, minutes of meetings are kept and the department has a designated co-ordinator. The team has engaged fully in the planning process and is congratulated on the very good start that has been made. A well-organised subject department folder contains an agreed programme of work for each year group, the names of the personnel involved in its delivery, texts and equipment and general guidelines on homework. It is recommended that the plan for English be developed further. Advice and a subject plan template are available from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) website at www.sdpi.ie. A timeframe for review of the subject should be agreed in the document.
Choice of texts is made jointly but this does not compromise individual teacher preference. In first year, the emphasis is on literacy in the first term. Care should be taken to ensure that skills, such as punctuation and grammar, are taught in context. The department could consult the Primary School Curriculum and feeder schools to help inform the first-year English programme. The Transition Year programme affords students an opportunity to produce a school magazine and this is commended. Further opportunities of this kind could be generated.
Planning for individual lessons was good. An appropriate range of resources (photocopied material and worksheets, audio-visual equipment and a film clip) was prepared and in some instances these resources were creative and challenging.
Lessons were purposeful and covered a variety of syllabus or programme related themes, such as media studies, language skills, stories, poetry, drama and the novel. The best lessons had a clear, simple and specific learning objective. This is good practice. It is recommended that the objective be written on the board at the start of the lesson and that a review period be built into lesson plans to ensure that the desired learning outcome has been achieved.
A good variety of strategies and activities was used in almost all of the lessons visited. The board was used effectively for graphic organisers, to record students’ contributions, key words and/or points in the lessons. Group work motivated and engaged students and developed communication and organisational skills. It worked best where tasks were clearly defined, guidelines were given, the task was time-bound, and where feedback took place in an immediate context. Where individual writing or group tasks were set, teachers circulated to ensure that students were focused and to offer assistance and encouragement.
There was an emphasis on the acquisition of theme-specific vocabulary. Use of the dictionary was observed and this is commended. Where a text was central to the lesson, good practice was noted where students were encouraged to highlight key points, or, where the teacher’s fluent and nuanced reading provided good modelling and assisted understanding.
Questioning strategies were varied, closed and open, global and targeted. Closed questions were designed to review material covered in earlier lessons, to direct information retrieval in the current lesson, to assess comprehension and to clarify and deepen understanding. Open questions were designed to develop skills such as evaluation, synthesis and analysis. Through student-teacher interactions, individuals were challenged and were affirmed for effort. Students also asked questions to seek clarification and, in the best examples, to tease out and discuss issues. In some instances, student questions revealed a very good level of engagement and understanding. Where higher order questioning is used, or where the responses are likely to be complex, care should be taken in lessons to allow students adequate time to formulate responses. Where there seems to be a lack of time, lesson planning should be reviewed.
In almost all lessons, students showed a good level of interest and in a few, the level of engagement was of a very high order, such that students seemed reluctant to leave the topic and the classroom. All the classrooms visited were well managed. Discipline was firm but relaxed and high standards of behaviour were expected and met.
Students were articulate and confident in interaction and of particular note was the ability of some students in the senior cycle to draw inferences based on evidence gleaned from their prescribed text under time-pressure.
Common assessment takes place in first year (with differentiation for individuals) and all students are prepared for the higher level. Common assessment relevant to level takes place in second and third year. In the junior cycle, most students are encouraged to take the higher level until the mock examinations in third year when final decisions about levels are usually made.
The school has a homework policy and general points regarding homework are noted in departmental documentation. The department should develop its policy and procedures to reflect a range of assessment modes and to encourage consistency in practice. Advice on assessment for learning is available through the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website at www.ncca.ie.
Interesting homework assignments were set in the lessons visited. Use was made of the school journal and instructions concerning the nature of assignments were generally clear and linked to the material covered in the lessons. However, it is advisable to set parameters for longer assignments, for example, the number of words required. Of particular note was a challenging and intriguing written assignment that clearly motivated students. Oral preparation for the assignment, by way of class discussion, clarified students’ ideas. This approach is highly commended.
As the evaluation took place early in the school year, there was not a large body of previous written assignments available in the copybooks seen. However, a fair range of syllabus appropriate homework was noted and in the best samples, corrections were dated and copies annotated with helpful advice or affirming comments. In one case, junior-cycle students, who found written work challenging, were awarded stars for effort and this was very encouraging for them. Another example of good practice was the setting of stimulating short story assignments. Notable too was the integration of language and literature in some assignments and this is commended.
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
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Department welcomes the positive feedback from the Inspectorate.
However, some elements are of concern.
“Delays can occur in securing the necessary funding for DVD’s and/or videos”.
This phrase would suggest there is some difficulty in obtaining financial support from management with regard to the purchase of resources. On the contrary management have been very supportive. The difficulties arise because of the V11 system. Some commercial do not avail of the long wait for payment