An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Evaluation of English as an Additional Language (EAL)

REPORT

 

St Clement’s College

Laurel Hill Avenue, Limerick

Roll number: 64220A

 

         Date of inspection: 11 November 2008

 

 

 

 

Evaluation report on English as an additional language

Whole-school support and provision for EAL

Planning and co-ordination

Teaching and learning

Support for EAL students

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

Report on Provision of English as an Additional Language (EAL)

 

 

Evaluation report on English as an additional language

 

This report has been written following an evaluation of provision for students learning English as an additional language (EAL) in St Clement’s College. It presents the findings of the evaluation of provision, teaching and learning of EAL and makes recommendations for the further development of EAL in the school. The evaluation was conducted over three days during which the inspector visited support and mainstream lessons and observed teaching and learning. The inspector held meetings with the principal and with groups of teachers and students, and reviewed school planning documentation, teachers’ written preparation, and students’ work. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and EAL teachers. This report forms part of the evidence base for a forthcoming composite report on EAL provision in primary and post-primary schools, intended to inform Department of Education and Science policy and to promote good practice in schools. 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.

  

 

Whole-school support and provision for EAL

 

St. Clement’s College is a long-established Redemptorist voluntary secondary school for boys. Past students have worked as Redemptorists in Australia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, Brazil, and in Ireland. Hence, the school has a long tradition of promoting interculturalism. The school offers a range of programmes to help develop the full potential of its students, including the Junior Certificate (JC), Transition Year (TY), the Established Leaving Certificate (LC), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). The school operates an open and inclusive admissions policy and a broad range of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds is represented in the student body. It is important to acknowledge that staff and students moved into a new school building at the end of August 2008. At the time of the evaluation, some work had yet to be completed in the building such as the connection of computers, the multi-media language learning laboratory, and an interactive whiteboard to the school’s server. Comments made on the use of those resources in this report need to be read within that context.

 

In 2007/08, eight teachers were involved in delivering EAL support. The school is commended for creating a smaller EAL core team for 2008/09, to enable greater levels of communication and collective planning by the group. The 2008/09 core EAL team consists of three qualified post-primary teachers. The co-ordinator is a senior member of staff who has completed a TEFL certificate course offered by the Advisory Council for English Language Schools (ACELS) and an ASTI in-service course on “Whole School Approaches to Teaching English as a Second Language.” A second member of the team has also completed a TEFL course through ACELS. The third member of the team is a trained language teacher, has completed a TEFL course, and had attended an ELSTA (English Language Support Teachers Association) conference on behalf of the school’s EAL teachers shortly before the evaluation. School management’s deployment of staff to EAL support facilitates continuity of provision and generally supports capacity building.

 

The school has an allocation of two whole-time equivalent teachers, which is forty four hours, for EAL support. It is using its allocation in five ways: withdrawal for a partial immersion programme for students identified as having low levels of English language proficiency, withdrawal for English extension classes of students assessed as having an intermediate level of English language proficiency, withdrawal for subject-specific support, withdrawal for extra English classes of senior cycle students not studying a foreign language, and the provision of some time for the EAL co-ordinator to meet parents of EAL students and the EAL teachers. Timetabling for EAL was satisfactory in most years and programmes. A few areas for development were noted during the evaluation. To address these issues and further enhance the school’s deployment of its EAL allocation, the following recommendations are offered. First, it is recommended that the practice of timetabling students of different year groups and with very different English language needs in the same withdrawal group should be discontinued. Secondly, the practice of timetabling two teachers to deliver EAL support to the same group of students during the school week should be avoided where possible. Thirdly, given the requirement under Circular 15/2009 that applications for an additional year of EAL support beyond the two-year period will need to be accompanied by results obtained using the English as an Additional Language: Post-Primary Assessment Kit, it is recommended that some time for administrative/testing work be included in EAL teachers’ timetables in the future.

 

The enrolment process for incoming first-year newcomer students is the same as for incoming first-year Irish students. Application forms and school enrolment processes are all through English. It is advised that the school have its application forms and a document summarising key information about the school and its most important rules translated into the main home languages of its EAL students to assist them and their parents. Perhaps past students, parents, the local Polish Saturday school or other local agencies such as Doras Luimní (a Limerick agency supporting refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants) could be of help in this regard. Finally, copies of documents describing aspects of the Irish post-primary system already translated into a number of languages other than English that the school was made aware of during the evaluation should also be made available to EAL students and their parents to facilitate enrolment.

 

EAL students seeking enrolment during the school year are usually interviewed by the EAL co-ordinator. During that meeting, the EAL co-ordinator gathers standard enrolment information and also information about the student’s home language(s) and prior educational experiences. To help facilitate such enrolment interviews, the school encourages parents of EAL students to bring in friends or relatives who are more proficient in English. Also, while not an ideal solution, the school may also ask students to act as translators. In the course of such interviews, the EAL co-ordinator takes notes of key information gleaned. It is suggested that the type of questions generally asked by the EAL co-ordinator in that interview now be reviewed in relation to pages 31-32 of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA)’s Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School: Guidelines for Schools. Part of that review should involve capturing phonetic renderings of the names of the EAL student and his parents, whether the student is living with parents/guardians or on his own, and the number of years of English-language support previously accessed by the student in Irish primary or post-primary schools. Based on his interview notes, the EAL co-ordinator draws up a list of newcomer students, indicating the home language of the students, and which students are scheduled to receive language support. That information is made available to all subject teachers through a designated tray in the staff room. If more of the information gathered by the EAL co-ordinator was to be compiled electronically, then that could further enhance the relevant information available to staff on EAL students enrolled in their classes, would aid the compilation of language support applications to the Department, and could also incorporate records of students’ levels of English language proficiency. Finally, it is recommended that, as part of the enrolment process, EAL students and their parents be specifically briefed on the implications of subject and programme choices they make. (See how the guidance department can aid this process in section four).

 

All incoming first-year students sit assessment tests after enrolment. The primary use of the scores compiled from that assessment is the identification of Irish students who would benefit from withdrawal and/or small class support. In the case of EAL students, it was reported that their scores are disregarded as an unreliable indicator of their abilities. It is advised that the special educational needs co-ordinator contact the school’s National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) psychologist to seek guidance on suitable instruments (such as non-verbal tests) for assessing such EAL learners. In relation to the placement of incoming first-year EAL students, if contact could be increased with the language support teachers in feeder primary schools, this would aid the placement of those students. As for the placement of EAL students who arrive during the school year, this has largely been based, to date, on the EAL co-ordinator’s assessment of the students’ English language proficiency. Looking toward the future, assessments of EAL students should also be conducted using the English as an Additional Language: Post-Primary Assessment Kit.

 

School management wishes to provide the greatest range of subjects for all students and this is acknowledged and commended. For instance, in 2008/09, LC EAL students who had not studied a modern language at junior cycle level were facilitated to study another subject while their peers attended modern language classes. An alternative arrangement that could also be considered would be the creation of ab initio modern language classes for fourth and fifth year students, to facilitate access to the LCVP for more EAL students and also for Irish students who didn’t study a modern language in junior cycle. It was evident that a number of EAL students in the school take State Examination Commission non-curricular LC language examinations. However, there was no evidence available that information is systematically provided to those students on the format and resources available to support them for those examinations. Hence, it is recommended that a protocol be agreed by the school’s State Examination Commission secretary, the guidance department, and the EAL co-ordinator, to ensure that EAL students are well-briefed on their entitlements and on preparatory supports available to them, well in advance of such examinations. Finally, it is recommended that the guidance department be requested to advise on the construction of EAL students’ timetables and particularly on the implications of withdrawing students from certain subjects for language support to place them in a partial immersion programme, to ensure that their future capacities to sit JC or LC subject examinations are not compromised.

 

With regard to the accommodation that supports the teaching and learning of EAL students, three rooms are currently associated with that function. A small store room within the library suite has been made available to the EAL team for the storage of their common resources and reference texts and this is good practice. Also, the two teachers timetabled for most EAL support had each based themselves in a particular room by the time of the evaluation. Great efforts had been made to create a print and visually-rich environment in one of those rooms in particular, and this is commended. However, aspects of both rooms created difficulties for the teaching and learning of EAL. In the Art storage room occupied by one teacher, some students had to sit at a counter facing a side wall, and not the teacher, during a lesson and the limited space was made even more cramped by the storage of obsolete computers in the room. As for the Mechanical Drawing room mostly occupied by the other EAL teacher, its sloped desks and high stools were not appropriate for EAL support work. It was reported by school management that a proposal for an audit of all school rooms and spaces was being discussed by the board of management at the time of the evaluation, to identify aspects of provision where change might be needed. It would be best practice if, as a result of such an audit, one base classroom for EAL teaching and learning could be designated, as has already been done for learning and resource support work.

 

School management has been generous in providing the EAL teaching team with a budget to purchase necessary resources. A stock of English grammar and vocabulary development texts has been commendably passed on to the EAL teaching team by the special educational needs department. Moreover, the EAL department has made very good progress in building up resources to support its work. Furthermore, English-language-learning software packages were due to be installed on the computers in the multi-media language learning laboratory shortly after the evaluation. The further development of three aspects of EAL resource provision would greatly help EAL students. First, it is advised that a set of English learner dictionaries be purchased by the school, for students’ use in EAL support classes. Secondly, it is recommended that increasing use be made of the internet to help contextualise new vocabulary and concepts in EAL support classes. Thirdly, it is suggested that websites such as www.naldic.org.uk, www.emaonline.org.uk and the Trinity Immigration Initiative’s English language support element (www.elsp.ie) be explored, to further expand the range of EAL teaching resources available in the school.

 

A spacious, airy school library had been equipped with furniture and computers by the time of the evaluation, with a small amount of stock already placed on shelves.  Suggestions for developing the library’s capacity to promote reading can be found in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) publications Time to Read and Room for Reading: The Junior Certificate School Programme Demonstration Library Project (http://www.jcspliteracy.ie/library_demo_project.htm). Relevant JCSP in-service courses and materials, the School Library Association of Ireland and the UK School Library Association could also be referred to in this regard. (See http://www.libraryassociation.ie and http://www.sla.org.uk/advice-and-support.php). Secondly, it is recommended that the high-interest low-reading-age readers that were provided for special educational needs teaching by the Department as part of the fit-out of the new school be located in the library, so that they can be accessed by EAL students as well as by students with literacy difficulties and by general browsers. Thirdly, to encourage EAL students to read for purpose in their home languages, it is advised that the school consult with the public library service in relation to the availability of books in students’ home languages and/or dual language books. If such resources can be accessed within the public library system, then the school can direct its students to avail of them as public library borrowers. Alternatively, links to publishers of multi-cultural and dual language books can be found on www.literacytrust.org.uk. Saving international newspaper websites such as www.world-newspapers.com and www.onlinenewspapers.com on computers located in the library would be another way of enabling EAL students to read for purpose in their home languages.

 

Continuous professional development (CPD) for the EAL teachers is encouraged by school management. For example, members of the team were facilitated to attend Second Level Support Service (SLSS) training for EAL teachers provided after the evaluation. Also, school management has offered to pay the fees associated with membership of ELSTA for the team and to support their attendance at ELSTA conferences. As for the CPD of the general teaching staff in this area, the EAL co-ordinator is given the opportunity to address the whole staff during planning/meeting times, to discuss the provisions being made for EAL students by his team. Also, EAL-related materials are made available in the staff room and all teachers have received copies of the Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School: Guidelines for Schools (NCCA).  To facilitate further sharing of resources and methods in relation to the key principles and practices of working with EAL learners, it is suggested that the EAL team be asked to make a presentation to the general staff on the key messages from the recent SLSS training course. Finally, subject departments may find it helpful to invite the EAL co-ordinator to join them for specific meetings, to help them review their subject department plans from an EAL perspective, and to add to or amend them where necessary.

 

 

Planning and co-ordination

 

A number of whole-school policies have been developed that have a bearing on provision for EAL students, including an admission policy, a code of behaviour, guidelines for best practice to parents/guardians, a guidance programme, and a draft policy on student participation in RE classes and on entry to the school and monastery chapels. Also, a draft policy on newcomers has been prepared by the EAL co-ordinator. Two particular aspects of the draft plan are commended. It takes cognisance of the Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School: Guidelines for Schools (NCCA) and of Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) materials. Also, it recognises that the roles and responsibilities of all staff members in relation to newcomers need to be defined. To help advance this draft into a whole-school EAL policy, it is recommended that a core group representative of the whole school community be established for this task, as stated in the EAL co-ordinator’s background document to the current newcomer draft policy. Given that the school’s post-holder for school planning has also completed further study on the achievement of newcomer students, it is suggested that that post-holder be included in the group. Similarly, the guidance counsellor, the special educational needs co-ordinator and the State Examinations Commission secretary for the school should also be included because they need to plan for aspects of EAL provision, in conjunction with the EAL co-ordinator, that should be incorporated into the whole-school policy on newcomers in due course. If difficulties are encountered in securing representatives of particular groups such as parents of EAL students, then survey instruments can be used to gather their views. Finally, based on the model of the anti-bullying questionnaires that are already being administered to students within the school, it is suggested that a questionnaire surveying the interests, areas of satisfaction and of concern of EAL students be prepared, to aid the planning and ongoing evaluation of a whole-school EAL policy.

 

The EAL co-ordinator meets with senior management regularly and has been given flexibility by school management to timetable a weekly meeting with the other two EAL teachers. In 2008/09, the EAL co-ordinator was meeting with the two EAL teachers separately for one period a week and the three EAL teachers were also occasionally and informally meeting as a group. The fact that records of those meetings were being kept is good practice. It is recommended that regular formal meetings of the entire EAL teaching team be organised to facilitate clear communication and collaborative planning in future.

 

A good deal of action planning was engaged in by the EAL team of 2008/09 as it responded to a series of changes in the first term of the year: the introduction of an immersion programme for a small number of students, identifying resources and supports needed by the department, and adapting to timetable changes caused by the loss of language-support hours due to a lower enrolment of EAL students in September 2008 than anticipated, based on the number of EAL students who had completed application forms by May 2008. The EAL teaching team is commended for its responsiveness to these challenges. Also, it was evident that the team had been engaging in the sharing of resources and of some good practice and this is also lauded.

 

While no overall EAL team plan was available during the evaluation, the EAL teachers presented some individual plans for working with EAL students and some accompanying resource folders. From that documentation, it was clear that the focus of subject-specific English language support classes is on the language of instruction and this is appropriate. However, the focus of the programmes aimed at intermediate English language learners is on de-contextualised grammar and sentence construction exercises. This programme does not make sufficient links to the subjects being studied by the students and thus does not sufficiently teach the language of instruction. Similarly, while the planned programme for the partial immersion group incorporates a variety of methodologies and resources and balances grammatical study with contextualised, active learning projects on particular themes, it does not give sufficient emphasis to the language of instruction. Hence, it is recommended that the EAL teachers now review and revise their individual plans to ensure that they take due cognisance of the three phases of language learning: “the learning core, the development of school learning skills, and the development of subject-specific learning skills.” (See pages 37-51 of the 2007 IILT publication A Resource Book for Language Support in Post-Primary Schools). They should then agree and adopt a common format for producing termly schemes of work. Finally, the EAL teachers should assemble those various schemes into an EAL department plan/folder, along with a description of the role and responsibility of the EAL co-ordinator, minutes of their meetings, and an inventory of the team’s resources. 

 

In relation to planning for EAL students in mainstream classes, there was evidence of liaison between the EAL teachers providing subject-specific support and the relevant mainstream subject teachers. To aid this work, subject departments should compile lists of the subject-specific terms they would like EAL teachers to reinforce with EAL students. A small number of subject department plans referred to intercultural units of work/projects and this is commended. Subject department plans should be reviewed and updated in relation to the function of EAL students’ home languages in subject learning, the use of bilingual dictionaries in mainstream classrooms, and the explicit teaching of the language of instruction by all mainstream subject teachers. A shared folder could be established on the school’s ICT network, compiling information and resources, to help this whole-school review of subject department plans.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

Seven lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation, three in the EAL support context and four mainstream subject lessons where EAL students were present. In all lessons evaluated, there was evidence of planning. Most lessons were well-structured, with the sharing of learning outcomes with students at the outset. In the case of a few lessons, reducing the number of learning outcomes to be achieved or preparing extra tasks in anticipation for students who would complete whole-class tasks faster than others would have improved the structure of the lesson. Teacher movement around the classroom was the main classroom management strategy in use. Good interpersonal relations between teachers and students were evident in almost all classes. The adoption of an overly-authoritarian style in one instance was counterproductive, creating a negative interpersonal dynamic between the teacher and most students. Finally, attractive and stimulating classroom environments had been established in the majority of classes observed. Given that staff and students had only been in situ in a new school building for approximately two months before the evaluation, this was a significant achievement.

 

Measures to support inclusion and to encourage students to work collaboratively were observed in both mainstream and support contexts. Strengths noted included the distribution of EAL students throughout the classroom, pair work involving a mix of students, questions asking EAL students to compare aspects of their cultures with aspects of Irish culture under study, the display of student-produced materials relating to home countries in one classroom, and the affirmation of students’ work and efforts.  Some good examples of teachers acting as effective language models for EAL students were observed, specifically in their use of clear expression, gesture, the maintenance of line-of-sight, appropriate speech pace, and repetition and rephrasing. Such communicative clarity greatly aided the inclusion and participation of EAL students in these lessons and is highly commended. Where weaknesses were observed in this area, either a teacher’s rate of speech was too rapid or the teacher failed to maintain a line of sight with students, explaining a procedure while writing on a whiteboard rather than explaining the procedure while facing students and then writing notes on the board. All teachers need to be aware of the importance of gestures and other non-verbal signals in communicating with EAL students and should be especially mindful of the need to speak clearly and at an appropriate pace.

 

The resources used in EAL support lessons included a mind map, an audio text, a writing frame, the whiteboard, and grammatical exercises on a handout. In most of the subject lessons evaluated, the main resources used were handouts and the whiteboard. In one of the subject lessons, very effective visual aids had been prepared to introduce students to new concepts and to new subject-specific terminology. Good practice was noted where a handout summarising the key procedural points learned in a practical lesson was provided to students. Three particular uses of the whiteboard observed are also commended: pre-writing keywords to be studied in a lesson on the board and then referring to them during the lesson; modelling how students should set out particular pieces of work using tables, mind maps or drawings on the board; and using coloured markers to distinguish between main and sub points. Looking toward the future, increased usage of concrete, visual, and ICT resources in all subject and EAL support lessons will greatly aid all students, including EAL learners. Lastly, teacher encouragement of an EAL student to use a bilingual dictionary was observed in one subject lesson and this was good practice. Given EAL students’ entitlement to use such dictionaries in certain State Examination Commission examinations, it is advised that students be encouraged to use bilingual dictionaries in all subject areas approved for this arrangement. (See under Reasonable Accommodations at http://www.examinations.ie/schools).

 

Active learning was promoted in both support and mainstream lessons through strategies such as role play, individual project work, revision games where students had to ask each other topic-specific questions, in-class writing tasks, and the teaching and reinforcement of clear classroom routines. Contextualised learning was evident where teachers activated students’ prior knowledge and experience of a topic before introducing new material and where they asked students to define the keywords of lessons and to put them into sentences before moving on to the next step of the lesson. However, where teachers presented new material in a decontextualised manner, this resulted in less effective learning. Presenting new material in a practical context, where a real-life benefit of learning the concept/skill is communicated to students, will benefit all students as well as EAL learners.

 

In some lessons evaluated, the use of methods to extend students’ speaking and writing skills was evident. Commendable strategies observed included encouraging students’ personal responses to new topics/texts, the use of a mind map to record students’ suggestions for a writing task, and the development of students’ English language pronunciation by asking them to read sections of text aloud. It is considered good practice where teachers ring-fenced time for oral feedback from groups before the end of lessons. However, in a small number of cases, most of the lesson was dominated by teacher talk, thus limiting students’ opportunities to practice the target vocabulary. Also, where teachers relied on lower-order questions rather than on a blend of higher and lower-order questions, students had fewer opportunities to extend their speaking skills. In relation to the extension of students’ writing skills, it is recommended that open writing tasks feature more often as in-class and homework assignments, so that students can practise writing in a range of genres.

Three areas for development were noted in the general teaching of EAL students during the evaluation. First, the language of instruction of subjects needed to be taught more explicitly in most lessons evaluated. It is vital that the need for a greater focus on the language of instruction be communicated to the whole staff, and that ways of supporting the explicit teaching of subject-specific terminology be discussed and established in a whole-school context.  To promote more consistent pre-teaching and consolidation of keywords and concepts by the various subject departments, it is advised that the JCSP keyword approach be investigated by the school and that an in-school CPD session could be delivered by teachers already using this approach with LCA students. Secondly, subject teachers need to give even greater encouragement to EAL students’ use of their home languages to access the curriculum. Given that English is the target language in EAL support lessons, students should be encouraged to communicate solely in English in those lessons. However, subject lessons in mainstream classes present a different context.  Here the EAL student must focus on the understanding of concepts and on the acquisition of subject-specific knowledge in areas where previous learning has taken place in the home language.  For this reason, where a number of students share a home language, their purposeful use of that common language to facilitate peer tutoring is beneficial and should be encouraged.  Teachers can then ensure that this approach is complemented and completed by the teaching and learning of the required vocabulary in English. Thirdly, given that evidence of differentiation was only observed in a small number of classes, it is advised that whole-school in-service on differentiation be organised by management. Where subject teachers identify particular EAL students as struggling in their classes, the degree to which differentiated supports have been put in place in those classrooms should be examined and further developed with the EAL co-ordinator before the arrangement of separate tuition in the particular subject for those learners.

 

The EAL teachers assess students receiving EAL withdrawal support using a variety of measures including teacher-designed spelling, and grammar tasks based on units of work completed in the EAL support class; in-class observation of students’ oral skills; and some use of the English language proficiency benchmarks. It is encouraged that the team now adopt a common assessment approach. Key elements of that approach should be ensuring that all EAL students’ progress in listening, speaking, reading, and writing is systematically evaluated and that assessment results currently recorded on paper be compiled electronically, to facilitate planning to meet individual EAL students’ needs. Information on students’ English language proficiency learning is provided orally by EAL teachers at parent-teacher meetings. It is suggested that a line be added to school reports, to enable the communication of written information on that progress to EAL students and their parents. Also, the English as an Additional Language: Post-Primary Assessment Kit should be adopted as another standard assessment mechanism in EAL support lessons. It can, of course, by complemented by additional assessment measures as deemed appropriate by the EAL team, such as self-designed tests and the development of portfolios where students compile work samples from different subjects to trace the development of their writing skills.

 

Two areas for development were noted in the assessment of EAL students by subject teachers. First, homework tasks should vary across oral, written and research/practical activities to reinforce in-class learning. The practice of assigning solely oral subject homework for two out of three class terms, as described in one subject department plan, was neither helpful to all students’ subject knowledge acquisition nor to EAL students’ English language acquisition and hence should be discontinued. Secondly, a review of student copies identified a need for more consistent provision of formative feedback affirming specific strengths in student work and giving more specific ideas for improvement.  It is encouraged that the issue of providing written formative feedback on student work be discussed at a whole-staff level, in the context of support for all students with low literacy levels. Resources such as the NCCA’s “Assessment for Learning” web pages, the JCSP publication Between the Lines, and the SLSS can be consulted in this regard.

 

EAL students’ learning in the lessons evaluated was generally good. Students answered teachers’ questions, asked their own questions to clarify points, and were able to listen to other students. Some EAL students were also able to express their opinions and to offer comparisons with their own cultures. Though a minor point, frequent and unexpected intercom announcements tended to interrupt students’ concentration in lessons. It was reported that in the case of some EAL students, absenteeism due to part-time work and/or return visits to their home countries during the school year was affecting on their achievement. However, in most cases observed, EAL students worked diligently and with interest and demonstrated a determination to progress.

 

 

Support for EAL students

 

The pastoral care structures that support all students in the school include a class advisor  and dean system; a guidance counselling service; a chaplain (privately funded by the school); the Religious Education, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), and special educational needs departments; and discreet support for economically-disadvantaged students. Formal care meetings are held weekly where the principal, deputy principal, guidance counsellor, and deans discuss specific students’ needs. It is recommended that the special educational needs and EAL co-ordinators also be included in these meetings. Other initiatives that support students include an induction day for incoming first years and a mentoring system to help them cope with the transition from primary to post-primary, settling in and anti-bullying questionnaires and an anti-bullying themed week. While the school is not eligible to access the Department’s home-school-community-liaison (HSCL) or school completion programme (SCP) supports, a proposal to recruit parents and past students with social care experience and training to enhance the school’s care supports on a voluntary basis was being debated by the board of management at the time of the evaluation. Such creative thinking and initiative to address significant school-life issues is highly commended.

 

The lengths to which the school has gone to care for individual EAL students are particularly impressive and powerfully reflect the school’s mission statement. For example, a good deal of practical pastoral care was provided for individual EAL students by the chaplain and another teacher in response to specific hardship cases. The school has worked with outside agencies such as Doras Luimní and with the Health Service Executive (HSE) in relation to the pastoral care of particular students, as necessary. Until relatively recently the school’s chaplain provided significant support to the care needs of EAL students. In the school year 2007/08, this arrangement was changed and the role of EAL co-ordinator was expanded to incorporate the support of EAL students’ care needs as well as their academic needs. To date, the focus of the EAL co-ordinator’s pastoral work has been to meet with EAL students and their parents to discuss enrolment issues and academic or emotional issues arising in the course of individual students’ school careers. Given that the EAL co-ordinator does not have time available to take sole responsibility for all the care needs of EAL students in the school and is not a trained counsellor, it is recommended that the roles of class advisors, deans, the EAL co-ordinator and the guidance department in relation to the pastoral care of EAL students be clearly defined.

 

Personal guidance support for students, including EAL learners, is available to all year groups. It is advertised at the start of each academic year through a joint visit by the chaplain and guidance counsellor to all classes within the first two weeks of the autumn term. Educational and vocational guidance is provided for TY, fifth and sixth-year students through a weekly timetabled class and for third-year students through three seminars delivered in conjunction with the SPHE programme. A detailed guidance plan has been developed and the guidance counselling department commendably works in conjunction with other care providers in the school on a range of initiatives. Significantly, the guidance department had identified “catering for the needs of non-nationals” as one of its areas for future development in the plan it presented during the evaluation. In this regard, three recommendations are offered. First, to make sure that EAL students and their parents can make informed choices from enrolment onwards, it is recommended that handouts be prepared, in English and if possible in EAL students’ home languages, on the implications of subject choices from first year onward in relation to future eligibility for second-level programmes such as the LCVP and for further and higher education courses. Other relevant guidance topics that should be summarised on handouts for EAL students and their parents include the reasonable accommodation entitlements of EAL students in LC examinations, the non-curricular LC language examination options available to EAL students, the requirements for EU and non-EU citizens seeking to progress to further or higher education in Ireland, and a simplified visual organiser of the Irish education progression system. Thirdly, the survey questionnaire that has already been prepared by the guidance department to track the progression of past students should be annually administered, analysed, and used to inform planning to meet the needs of enrolled students (including EAL students).

 

To date, there has been some liaison between the EAL and special educational needs departments. For example, EAL students are referred to the special needs department if, on enrolment, they independently produce a psychological assessment report. However, no protocol has yet been worked out between the two departments, whereby at the request of an EAL teacher and/or subject teachers, the special educational needs co-ordinator would assess EAL students felt to have educational needs in addition to English language needs. It is recommended that such a protocol be agreed as soon as possible and be included in the whole-school policy on newcomers currently being developed. Finally, it is recommended that an inventory of the special education department’s resources for literacy development (print and software) be compiled and shared with the EAL teaching team, to ensure that the resources are used to the benefit of the greatest number of learners.

 

A number of initiatives to promote inclusion have been implemented by the school. Respect for the multiplicity of faiths within the student body is promoted through world religion lessons at both junior and senior cycle and through the communication to staff by RE teachers and by the chaplain of the significance of Ramadan and of its impact on the immediate welfare of Muslim students. Also, a concerted effort is made to incorporate intercultural dimensions into the school’s liturgical events by the placement of different breads on the altar, by students singing in their own languages and making music on instruments indigenous to their cultures, by the display of flags representing students’ home countries during services, and by the encouragement of EAL students to describe their Christmas/winter traditions during an annual Advent Wreath ceremony. The fact that the Redemptorist saint after whom the school is named performed much of his missionary work in Poland links the school with its Polish-born EAL students in particular and with all newcomers in general. As part of the TY work experience programme, students can opt to work with Doras Luimní. Furthermore, a number of curricular projects on intercultural themes have been undertaken in recent years such as a Young Social Innovators “Speak Out” event, teaching newcomers hurling, and an LCA project called “Our New Communities.” These initiatives are warmly commended and the emphasis on interculturalism is especially laudable. To further enhance this support for inclusion, it is suggested that two other initiatives be undertaken by the school. First, it is encouraged that resources such as “multilingual welcome notices, a world map indicating where students come from (including different parts of Ireland), and a list/graph showing the range of home languages represented in the school” be displayed.  (See page 11 of the 2007 IILT publication A Resource Book for Language Support in Post-Primary Schools). Secondly, it is encouraged that an annual intercultural event open to students and parents be organised, possibly co-ordinated by the CSPE department, where projects, music, food, clothing and so on would be displayed in a central school area.

 

All students are included and encouraged to participate in the school’s co and extracurricular activities such as lunchtime soccer games, basketball, and the intercultural liturgical ceremonies.

 

EAL students participate in the student council and have been selected as school captains in past years. As for the role that the parents of EAL students play in school life, it was reported that they regularly visit the school to talk to the EAL co-ordinator, deans, subject teachers and the principal and attend some liturgical events. However, the school also reported a difficulty in engaging parents of EAL students in school activities and organisations, largely because of their patterns of work.

 

Some strategies such as the invitation of a family, friend or student translator to facilitate communication with parents of EAL students have been developed by the school. The fact that EAL teachers are available at parent-teacher meetings is also commended. A 2008 LCA project on the experiences of EAL students in the school made one other significant suggestion for further developing the school’s supports in this regard. Based on questionnaire returns indicating that the first week at school was particularly challenging for EAL students with low English language proficiency, the LCA project team suggested that a welcome pack be created in the main home languages of the school’s EAL students, including a map of the school and an explanation of the general school timetable and of individual students’ weekly timetables. Other important elements of such a pack would be the document summarising key information about the school and its most important rules recommended in section one and some of the guidance handouts recommended in this section. Finally, it is suggested that online translation websites could also be used to create a keyword list of subject names and of frequently-used teacher comments in different languages, to be used in parent-teacher meetings and school reports, as appropriate.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • The school has a long tradition of promoting interculturalism and operates an inclusive admissions policy.
  • The EAL teaching team consists of a small team of permanent teachers who have all undertaken in-service courses relevant to EAL.
  • School management is commended for establishing weekly meetings with the EAL co-ordinator, for giving the co-ordinator the opportunity to address the general staff during planning/meeting days, and for making funds available on request for the purchase of EAL resources.
  • A number of whole-school policies have been developed that have a bearing on provision for EAL students.
  • In all lessons evaluated, there was evidence of planning. In most cases, EAL students worked diligently and with interest, demonstrated a determination to progress, and their learning was generally good.
  • Many of the resources and methodologies used by the teachers in the classes observed provided good support to EAL students.
  • While a range of structures supports the welfare of all students, the lengths to which the school has gone to care for individual EAL students are particularly impressive and powerfully reflect the school’s mission statement.
  • A number of whole-school initiatives to promote inclusion have been implemented by the school.
  • Some strategies have been developed by the school to communicate with the parents of EAL students.
  • EAL students participate in the student council, have been selected as school captains in past years, and are included and encouraged to participate in co- and extracurricular activities.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations should be implemented over the coming years:

 

  • Elements of whole school support and provision for EAL including reviewing aspects of the deployment of its language-support allocation, the gathering of materials in home languages to support the enrolment process, and the integration of advice and information from the guidance department to support EAL students and their parents need to be addressed.
  • To further enhance the teaching and learning of EAL students in mainstream classes, the language of instruction needs to be taught more explicitly, greater encouragement should be given to EAL students’ use of their home languages to access the curriculum, differentiation strategies should be harnessed to a greater degree, and more consistent written formative feedback should be provided on students’ work.
  • A group representative of the school community needs to be established to help advance the draft policy on newcomers into a whole-school EAL policy.
  • The language of instruction needs to be incorporated as the foundation stone of all EAL teachers’ individual plans. Also, subject department plans should be reviewed and updated from an EAL perspective.
  • Links between the EAL and special educational needs departments should be further developed.

 

 

A meeting was held with members of the EAL teaching team and with the principal following the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

 

Published, June 2009