An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Evaluation of English as an Additional Language (EAL)
Bishopstown Community School
Bishopstown, County Cork
Roll number: 91397T
Date of inspection: 17 October 2008
Report on Provision of English as an Additional Language (EAL)
This report has been written following an evaluation of provision for students learning English as an additional language (EAL) in Bishopstown Community School. 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 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.
Bishopstown Community School is a co-educational school. Programmes available include the Junior Certificate, the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the Transition Year programme (TY), the Leaving Certificate (Established) and the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA). The school participates in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) initiative and it has a number of connected schemes underway. These include the Home School Community Liaison Scheme and the School Completion Programme. The school’s management and teaching staff highlighted the positive impact which EAL students had on their school community, while noting the challenges which this new cohort of students also presented. The school operates an open admissions practice. The school is to be praised for its practice in this regard. Further consideration of the admissions policy and other relevant policies will be undertaken later in this report.
The school is currently 5.04 whole-time equivalents (WTE) over quota. Of this number, one WTE (22 hours) has been allocated by the Department of Education and Science (DES) for English language support for EAL students. During the course of the evaluation the principal highlighted difficulties experienced in seeking to align supernumerary positions alongside allocations in the area of EAL. Notwithstanding this, the school currently uses seven hours and twenty minutes of its English language support allocation for English language support. The remaining fourteen hours and forty minutes is used to create an additional class group in third year which consists of a mixture of EAL and other students. While recognising the legitimacy of some support being offered to EAL students with regard to measures to support inclusion, the current use of the hours allocated for English language support is not appropriate. It is imperative that all of the resources allocated by the DES for English language support should be used for the purpose to which they have been assigned, in compliance with circular 0053/2007. It is strongly recommended that the adjustments necessary for compliance with this statement should be made at the earliest possible opportunity. The school is currently seeking to access additional hours for English language support. School management should note that additional allocations for EAL support may be sought where students enrol after the beginning of the school year.
The EAL team provides support through withdrawal lessons in all year groups in the school – first year, second year, third year, TY and sixth year. In general, EAL students are withdrawn from Irish lessons for EAL support. EAL teachers raised the need for more continuity in meeting EAL students as a particular concern. With the implementation of the preceding recommendation, it should be possible to make available hours which would alleviate this difficulty. A current arrangement, whereby one group of sixth-year students who are in receipt of EAL support have different teachers for their two EAL lessons, should be avoided in future. The organisation of EAL classes on the basis of group withdrawal rather than individual withdrawal is good practice. The school is encouraged to maintain awareness of the advantages of group work over individual tuition in the area of EAL support. A further addition to the school’s current practice in providing EAL support could be the use of team-teaching as an aid to differentiation and inclusion.
Three qualified post-primary teachers form the core EAL teaching team. The size of the team is appropriate, facilitating the building of expertise, along with communication between the teachers involved. Members of the EAL team have qualifications in teaching English and two of the team have qualifications in teaching modern languages. In addition, one member of the team has a qualification in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) / Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). All of this is positive and great praise is due where additional training in the area of language teaching has been accessed. The school should maintain an awareness of the significant expertise that other teachers involved in the teaching of modern languages could bring to the EAL team through consultation about, or participation in, teaching EAL classes. Members of the EAL team highlighted the need for a clear distinction between the type of skills utilised in a mainstream English class and those in an EAL support context. The focus on language-teaching skills which senior management has displayed in allocating teachers to the EAL team is commendable. It should be noted that while a TEFL background provides useful insights into communicative and social language acquisition, the emphasis in EAL is also placed on the language of instruction. The language of instruction refers to the range of language skills that enable students to access the curriculum, to make progress within it and to take the relevant certificate examinations. Reading and writing skills, for example, are of particular significance to EAL students. Senior management and the EAL teaching team were most receptive to these ideas during the course of the evaluation. The current focus on creating a small, core EAL team is to be commended.
As has been previously stated, the school operates an open admissions practice. There is a written admissions policy and this should be adjusted in a number of respects in order to more clearly reflect the school’s open practice and to ensure compliance with the Equal Status Act 2000. Such a review would be all the more worthwhile given the lack of consistency between some elements of the policy and the good practice currently undertaken by the school. Beyond this, clarifications with regard to the precise grounds involving refusal to enrol students should be added to the policy.
The school has already adopted a number of alterations to its normal enrolment procedures in the case of EAL students, once they have been admitted. These alterations have been undertaken to facilitate the students’ induction into a new school and culture and have been set out in a draft EAL policy document which is at an early stage of development. This is commendable. Those EAL students who are moving from an Irish primary school into first year undertake the same assessments as their peers, including standardised tests and an entrance assessment test in English, Irish and Mathematics, where possible. The school has also begun to utilise the English Language Proficiency Benchmarks developed by Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT). Further information regarding these students is accessed by the special educational needs co-ordinator and the guidance counsellor who visit feeder primary schools prior to students’ entry. This is positive. It is suggested that a specific link be set out in the draft EAL policy which ensures that an EAL co-ordinator is involved at some level in accessing the information garnered in primary schools regarding these students. (The overall place of an EAL co-ordinator is discussed later in this report.) An overreliance on standardised tests as a means of assessing these students should be avoided due to the potential for cultural and language bias to interfere with their validity. Furthermore, assessments in English, Irish and Mathematics may also be less informative than might be hoped for, due to students’ lack of proficiency in the English language, although their cognitive ability may be of a very high level. The EAL core team displayed an awareness of these difficulties when interviewed. It is also important that information regarding new students’ previous EAL support can be accessed by the school from feeder schools as a means of ensuring that surface language proficiency in English is not mistaken for a mastery of the language of instruction, thus potentially misleading teachers with regard to students’ overall cognitive ability.
Those EAL students who arrive during the school year from outside Ireland are interviewed by the principal and the deputy principal, along with their parents. On occasions where it is possible, an interpreter is used. Translation difficulties reported by members of the school community are detailed at a later point in this report. An informal assessment of students’ proficiency in the English language is undertaken and they are assigned to a year group and class. Their English teacher monitors their progress and they automatically join an EAL support class. These arrangements are worthwhile. It is suggested that an EAL co-ordinator should be involved in the initial interview with the students and parents. This would provide a clear point of contact and support for both students and parents. Beyond this, the initial assessment test developed by IILT and available in the IILT publication A resource book for language support in post-primary schools (2007) could be used by the EAL co-ordinator at a very early point to evaluate the current level of the student’s English language proficiency. This resource is available on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie. Currently, the test is used by EAL teachers at a somewhat later point in the process. Furthermore, the use of an interview ‘template’ to guide the specific information to be garnered regarding the student’s needs could also be added to the process. Such a template could be developed from the NCCA publication Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School: Guidelines for Schools (pages 31-32). The development of an induction pack to further aid EAL students’ entry to the school could also be considered.
There are currently no set criteria for placement of EAL students in particular class groups. However, as has been set out, EAL students participate in a number of assessment tests upon entry to the school. Following this they are placed in a class where it is estimated that they will get the best support. Often this is in a class group where support is already being accessed at the same time as Irish lessons. Mainstream subject teachers then monitor their progress in relevant subject areas, while EAL teachers monitor their progress in English language proficiency. Students are placed in age-appropriate groups for EAL support lessons. In such a context, it is important that targeted strategies be adopted to aid differentiation where students with different proficiencies in the English language are participating in the same EAL lessons. The school should be vigilant with regard to the need to ensure that students are not placed in mainstream class groups which are not commensurate with their cognitive ability merely on the basis of limited proficiency in the English language.
While in general EAL students have full access to the curriculum, in TY a majority of EAL students, following consultation with their parents, do not participate in French lessons as they did not study French for the Junior Certificate. The principal states that these students instead take part in a photography lesson, an ICT lesson and a musical instruments lesson, all of which are noted on the school timetable as ‘study’ lessons. These students will participate in examinations in their native languages in the Leaving Certificate rather than in French. It is important that the school should ensure that EAL students have access to as broad a curriculum as possible. Where participation in some subjects has been limited, a formal procedure should be put in place to explain the consequences of such choices to parents and to students and formal consent to these arrangements should be obtained. The master timetable should clearly reflect the subjects in which students are participating.
At present the school does not have a dedicated EAL support room. This is due to limited availability of space in the school building. A wide range of resources has been gathered by the EAL team and these are stored in a locker in one of the teachers’ rooms. These resources are shared between members of the EAL team. Included among them are resources from IILT, TEFL materials, JCSP materials and visual dictionaries. Dictionaries were available in some classes and teachers stated that students have bilingual dictionaries for their own work. This is positive. It is recommended that a workable policy dealing with the use of bilingual or learner dictionaries should now form an element of the draft EAL policy. Advice on the use of dictionaries by EAL students can be accessed in A resource book for language support in post-primary schools (2007). The school and EAL teachers are to be praised for gathering all of these materials. The important distinction between TEFL and EAL which was outlined earlier in this report should, however, be noted in this context as well. In this regard some websites which might be usefully reviewed by teachers include www.naldic.org.uk, www.emaonline.org.uk and www.elsp.ie. The latter website contains learning activities which will support EAL students in an Irish context.
There is a school library which is also used as a classroom. The opportunity for dual-language books to form an element in the school library may be worth pursuing, along with the development of paired-reading activities. The EAL core team has noted a range of websites relevant to the teaching of EAL as an element in their development of resources to support teaching and learning. The EAL team highlighted difficulties in accessing ICT with their students due to the limited class contact time for EAL. In mainstream subject lessons, highly effective use of ICT to support the learning of EAL students was observed. In one instance, this involved occasional visits to one of the school’s two computer rooms to facilitate the completion of project work. Both EAL and mainstream subject teachers are encouraged to continue to explore opportunities to harness ICT as a support for EAL students. The potential to share good practice already present in the school should be explored. Useful resources in the area of ICT which could be investigated by students or teachers are the websites www.world-newspapers.com and www.onlinenewspapers.com. The former website provides English language newspapers based in students’ home countries, while the latter provides newspapers in students’ home languages.
Members of the EAL team have participated in continuing professional development (CPD) in the area of English language teaching. Teachers have attended an in-service training course provided by IILT, as well as a course in TESOL / TEFL. In both of these instances the school was very supportive of teachers’ involvement in CPD. The EAL team is aware of the existence of the English Language Support Teachers’ Association (ELSTA). Members of the team are encouraged to join ELSTA, the website of which can be accessed at www.elsta.ie., The team is familiar with a number of guidelines and documents referred to in this report. All staff members have been provided with a copy of the NCCA publication Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School: Guidelines for Schools. The team is encouraged to review these documents and websites, along with other resource material mentioned in this report which they have not previously encountered. Throughout the evaluation, school management and staff reported a need for EAL-specific CPD for mainstream and EAL teachers.
The school has become involved in a number of new programmes in recent years, as a result of its participation in the DEIS initiative. Alongside these significant developments, a number of school policies have been developed which are of relevance in the context of this report. These include the admissions policy, an anti-bullying policy, a guidance policy (dealt with towards the end of this report) and a special educational needs policy. It is to the school’s credit that each of these policies seeks to recognise some of the particular needs of EAL students. The commitment displayed in the creation of the special educational needs policy is particularly creditable. It is suggested that the policy should be further developed to incorporate a statement outlining the distinction between English language support needs and students in need of support due to cognitive difficulties. Beyond this, the caveats regarding the assessment of EAL students mentioned earlier in this report should be delineated. The policy should formalise the manner in which communication is to be managed between the SEN co-ordinator and the EAL team. While communication is currently very good, due to an overlap in personnel, formalisation of these processes would be worthwhile. The creation of a whole-school literacy policy is also currently underway. This is positive.
The draft EAL policy deals with areas such as the enrolment process, the role of the home-school-community-liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator and cultural events to support integration. As well as this, the part teachers are to play in supporting the experiences of EAL students is outlined and the policy includes the Language Proficiency Benchmarks developed by IILT. The potential for this policy to form one pillar in an overall ‘inclusion policy’ encompassing the areas of EAL, special educational needs and other groups should be considered. Such an approach would allow for a focus on the particular assessment materials to be used with EAL students. It is also suggested that a statement dealing with the place of students’ home languages in the school and in the classroom would be worthwhile.
At present there is no EAL co-ordinator although the need to appoint an EAL co-ordinator to further advance work in this area has been recognised by the school. It is recommended that an EAL co-ordinator be appointed as rapidly as possible. The role of the EAL co-ordinator should be clearly set out in the EAL policy which is currently under development. An area which might be considered as part of the co-ordinator’s overall duties is that of providing input regarding the overall timetabling arrangements for EAL students. The potential for the co-ordinator to be allocated a regular ‘slot’ at staff meetings should not be discounted, as this could be used as a valuable professional development opportunity for mainstream subject teachers to learn about EAL students, their needs and, on a wider note, intercultural education in general.
The EAL team meets regularly on an informal basis. This is positive, but opportunities for the team to meet on a formal basis as part of the subject planning process should now be pursued. Such an approach will allow for the formal planning of an EAL programme, making a clear distinction between learning support (as was practiced in some EAL lessons observed) and specific language support. Other areas could also be formally explored in this manner and form elements in the EAL policy. These include relevant methodologies and learning goals in EAL, specifically with regard to the language of instruction. Useful ideas in these areas can be found on p.37 of A resource book for language support in post-primary schools (2007) which focuses on the different phases of language learning in the English language support programme. When meetings are organised minutes should be taken and a departmental file for EAL should begin to be developed. This file should be stored with other EAL resources and could prove to be a powerful induction tool for teachers who are new to EAL.
There was evidence in subject department plans of consideration being given to the needs of EAL students. This is positive. In some cases, this involved considerable elaboration of strategies to be employed to facilitate students accessing the curriculum, while this focus was more limited in other cases. Particularly good practice was noted in one subject plan which highlighted the need to check which students were in receipt of EAL support lessons, areas of potential difficulty for EAL students, seating arrangements, the importance of visual support for EAL students and the use of ICT to support these students’ learning. It is suggested that, in addition to these, very worthwhile, efforts, all subject department plans should highlight the place of students’ home languages in supporting their learning. This would reflect some practice which already exists in some classes. There was evidence of informal links between mainstream teachers and the EAL team. In a number of instances mainstream teachers indicated an eagerness for greater links with the EAL team and an interest in gaining more information about how to further advance these students’ achievement. One strategy which may be worth pursuing is the provision of a standard report sheet on EAL students. This could provide mainstream teachers with information regarding the strengths and needs of each EAL student. In turn, on a number of occasions each year, the sheet could allow for the feedback of information to EAL teachers providing support for these students. Beyond this, the information could be used by the EAL teaching team to provide helpful pointers for the whole staff on dealing with common areas of difficulty.
A further area where links between mainstream teachers and the EAL team would be of benefit is in the use of the IILT Language Proficiency Benchmarks. The EAL team has begun to use the benchmarks in their assessment processes and this is a worthwhile development. The use of this assessment tool, by EAL teachers, as a means of profiling students’ progress in English language proficiency, is recommended. The ease with which the benchmarks can be used in different contexts should also facilitate the involvement of some mainstream teachers in this process, an involvement which should not prove too onerous. This, in essence, would create a formal assessment process specific to EAL which could then, potentially, be reported to parents and inform teacher planning for EAL lessons. A further worthwhile development in the area of assessment has been the EAL team’s initial work towards students creating their own profiles. This has recently been undertaken with a consciousness of the work developed by IILT through its European Language Portfolio.
Individual teacher planning for EAL lessons was extremely diligent. Teachers reported difficulties in planning the EAL programme due to a number of factors, suggesting that they would be very interested in professional development in this area. In addition, it was reported that a high level of student absenteeism in some EAL class groups hampered some teachers’ ability to plan.
Six lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation, three in the EAL support context and three mainstream lessons where EAL students were present. In all cases, lessons were planned diligently on the part of teachers, teachers had planned specific supports for the benefit of EAL students and there was diligent monitoring of students’ work. In all cases, teachers demonstrated admirable classroom management skills. A good relationship between students and teachers was evident and teachers were universally affirming towards students’ efforts. At the beginning of a majority of lessons observed, teachers highlighted the learning goals to be achieved and this was good practice. The further expansion of this and other Assessment for Learning strategies is encouraged. All teachers provided good language models for their students, and it is important that mainstream and EAL teachers maintain an awareness of their role in this regard. Good practice was observed where teachers maintained a clear line of sight between themselves and their students when speaking, and this was frequently the case.
Resources used in the lessons observed included the whiteboard, illustrations, ICT, simplified texts, the overhead projector and vocabulary lists. The manner in which one teacher had adapted the use of ICT to support the learning of EAL students was an example of very good practice. Here, students engaged in exercises arising from ‘dropdown’ menus connected to more extensive written texts. These texts were then stored in students’ folders. As well as this, students had their own subject-specific folder on the school network in which they could store their work. The EAL team has compiled a list of useful websites and there were examples of the use of ICT in students’ own work. Expanded access to ICT as a means of promoting EAL students’ literacy is to be strongly encouraged in both mainstream and support contexts. Another example of good practice in both EAL and mainstream contexts was the development of lists of keywords, translated into students’ home languages, to be stored by students and to be studied and revised over time. It is suggested that the creation of this type of ‘remember book’, which students could use for all subject areas, would be worth developing formally across all departments. The use, in one lesson, of a graphic organiser and a visual to encourage oral work concerning a cultural event was also worthwhile.
Strategies such as the setting of project work, practical work and the use of concrete materials to support learning for EAL students were clearly in evidence in a number of mainstream subject areas, as well as in EAL support contexts. Teachers also used physical gesture to support students’ understanding. Beyond this, pair work and group work featured as elements in a number of lessons. In both EAL and mainstream contexts this is good practice, facilitating the development of English language skills and the use of peer models for EAL students. It is suggested that, as a further extension of the good work undertaken in a number of cases, structured questions and tasks could be organised to provide a particular focus for group and pair work. Strategies such as snowball, triad and jigsaw are worthy of consideration in this context, as they incorporate activities centred around speaking and listening and could also ultimately be linked to reading and writing. The use of pair and group work as a means of aiding EAL students to access the curriculum and further their English language proficiency is encouraged in mainstream and support contexts.
The repetition and extension of students’ answers on the part of the teacher was seen in one mainstream lesson. This was achieved appropriately and with a sensitivity to the student’s self-esteem. Such an approach should be adopted in all lessons, consistently linking such repetitions to a sense of affirmation for the student. This might be further expanded to include teachers’ board work, where, sometimes, rather than noting one word on the blackboard, a simple grammatical construct could be noted and repeated regarding different topics during the course of the lesson. Further very good practice was seen in various contexts through teachers’ strategies to engage students with texts and to extend their written work. The utilisation of DARTS (Directed Activities Related to Texts) in a number of lessons was very worthwhile. These included the adoption of a grid in one lesson to focus students on key points without the intrusion of overly dense English text, the use of wordsearches and the use of cloze tests. In one lesson a teacher moved students towards more extended writing activities and, in a number of EAL support lessons there were examples of extended writing activities. In particular, where writing frames were used as a support for students’ writing, this is commended. It is recommended that the use of writing frames in particular, along with other DARTS activities, should be highlighted in the methodology section of the EAL policy for use in both EAL and mainstream contexts.
A strong focus on the use of English was maintained in EAL support lessons. This was appropriate as consistently high use of the target language is considered best practice in language learning. Consequently, students should generally be carefully discouraged from using home languages in the EAL support context. Outside of EAL lessons, differing views of the use of students’ home languages were expressed by teachers. It should be noted that subject lessons in mainstream classes present a different context to that of EAL support. Here, EAL students must focus on the understanding of concepts and 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 a common home language to facilitate peer tutoring is beneficial and should be encouraged and supported. Teachers can ensure that this approach is complemented and completed by the teaching and learning of the required vocabulary in English. A statement highlighting these points should form part of the school’s EAL policy.
There was evidence of student learning in all lessons. In the mainstream context EAL students questioned teachers readily, carried out teachers’ instructions and were actively engaged throughout. In one instance a subject teacher highlighted difficulties occasionally displayed by some students in engaging with the language of instruction. There was also evidence of student learning in the EAL context, with students participating readily in classes. In a number of EAL support lessons there was a strong focus on supporting students’ achievement in the certificate examinations. Very good work on the acquisition of social English was undertaken in another EAL lesson and this might be further progressed to incorporate a focus on the language of instruction. The use of curricular materials by students in this class as a means of further expanding their familiarity with the language of instruction should be explored. Beyond this, the adaptation of the current thematic approach could be considered so that the language explored would have clearly defined applications both in social settings and especially in an instructional context. It is recommended that a clear focus should be maintained on advancing the language of instruction in both EAL support and mainstream class contexts.
Students’ work was regularly and diligently monitored in both EAL and mainstream contexts. Files of students’ work were kept in EAL classes where practicable and direct questioning of students was used effectively. The development of students’ files to further incorporate strategies exemplified in the IILT European Language Portfolio is also encouraged. A further useful addition to current monitoring procedures in the EAL department would be the continued development of the department’s use of the IILT English Language Proficiency Benchmarks, as set out earlier in this report. It is suggested that, to enhance communication between the EAL team and parents, information regarding students’ progress in EAL lessons should be added to the current reports sent to parents.
The creation of a print-rich environment to support students’ learning was observed in a number of classes, in both mainstream and EAL contexts. In one instance this achieved a particularly high standard, involving the display of graphic organisers, keyword lists and posters explaining parts of speech. The further development of classroom environments in this area is strongly encouraged as such an approach will serve to encourage all students’ English literacy skills. Beyond the classroom, a display regarding an intercultural day organised by the school was worthwhile. The continued development of the whole-school environment through the incorporation of intercultural displays, along with the acknowledgement of students’ home languages, is strongly encouraged.
The pastoral care team has a number of components including class teachers, year heads, a home-school-community-liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator, a chaplain, a guidance counsellor, a learning-support teacher, the school completion programme co-ordinator and a behaviour support team. The addition of an EAL co-ordinator to the care team would be very worthwhile. A buddy system for new first-year students is currently being developed. This is worthwhile. The system is not currently aimed at supporting EAL students who are newly arrived in the school. When EAL students first arrive in the school, a student in their new class is appointed by the year head to look after them for their first week in school on an informal basis. The draft EAL policy notes that, when possible, students will be introduced to other students who speak their language. It is suggested that a formal buddy system, potentially involving some EAL students who have already settled into the school community, should be created for new EAL students. This could serve to alleviate the considerable anxiety which some EAL students experience upon first arriving in a new school and cultural environment.
The guidance counsellor meets with EAL students on the day, or near the day, of their admission to the school. The guidance counsellor has participated in professional development in the area of intercultural education, provided by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, and is aware of useful websites which provide information on education systems in other countries, including Ploteus which may be accessed through www.ncge.ie. The guidance plan includes aspects relating to the needs of EAL students, particularly with regard to the role of EAL teachers. The school has begun tracking student outcomes as part of the DEIS initiative. A number of EAL students have been included in this process. All of this is positive. It is suggested that a particular lens with regard to the other needs of these students could be applied to the guidance plan, specifically in areas such as the support provided regarding links to their home country’s education system, how subject choice is supported, the provision for the arrival and tracking of minority-ethnic / minority-language students and how links with parents of EAL students are managed. The policy should explicitly highlight the difference between students with specific cognitive needs as opposed to those with particular needs in the area of English language proficiency. The guidance counsellor is also involved in weekly meetings with representatives of the behaviour support team and the deputy principal. The behaviour support team has made some interventions with EAL students and particularly noted the link between these students’ difficulties in English literacy and their emotional needs. This is commendable.
As has been stated, there is good communication between the special educational needs department and the EAL team. The special educational needs co-ordinator outlined concerns with regard to the difficulties involved in evaluating the needs of EAL students, along with difficulties in accessing assessments previously undertaken in students’ home countries. Helpful information on a range of assessments, including non-verbal tests, can be found appended to the Department of Education and Science (DES) circular 99/2007. Beyond this, the building up of a student profile and the provision of targeted learning support within the available resources are appropriate measures in the case of EAL students with apparent learning difficulties.
The HSCL co-ordinator has made considerable efforts to encourage more effective links between the school and the home of EAL students. These include home visits, involvement with the parents’ association, the organisation of English classes for parents of EAL students (for which there was limited uptake) and the provision of an information booklet about the Irish education system for parents. The HSCL co-ordinator has also organised an information meeting for Polish parents and has accessed the services of a translator to help with communication during this event. It is suggested that information regarding the English language support programme should be included in these meetings. Some letter templates in different languages have also been accessed to aid communication with parents. The efforts of the HSCL co-ordinator are to be greatly praised.
Senior management and staff highlighted translation services as a key area for development during the course of the evaluation. School policies are currently only available in the English language. Students also outlined difficulties with regard to translation during parent-teacher meetings. The EAL team noted a reluctance on the part of some parents to attend parent-teacher meetings because of language difficulties and that sometimes it was necessary for students to act as translators in these meetings. Some resources which may be useful in this area can be accessed through the Reception and Integration Agency at www.ria.gov.ie and through the Translated Documents section of the DES website at www.education.ie.
There are a number of EAL student representatives on the student council. When interviewed, EAL students praised the friendliness and support of teachers. A number of activities have been organised to celebrate the diverse cultures currently represented in the school community. These have included intercultural days, multilingual signs and an ‘open mike’ event. Staff and management frequently highlighted concerns with regard to attendance levels on the part of some EAL students. Extra-curricular activities have been organised, particularly in association with the School Completion Programme (SCP) which has been underway in the school for the last year. These have included dance, basketball and a six-week surfing programme during the summer months which has been extended to Wednesday afternoons. There has been a good uptake of these activities on the part of EAL students. The SCP co-ordinator attached to the school expressed an interest in participating in intercultural training if it were made available.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· All teachers prepared diligently for lessons.
· A good relationship between teachers and students was evident in all cases.
· Lessons were conducted in an affirming and positive atmosphere.
· The school has an open admissions practice.
· The current model of support for EAL students is based around group withdrawal. This focus on group withdrawal is worthwhile.
· The school is supportive of teachers acquiring resources to support EAL.
· An EAL policy has begun to be devised.
· The use of DARTS (Directed Activities Related to Texts) in EAL and mainstream lessons was worthwhile.
· All teachers provided good language models.
· The IILT language proficiency benchmarks have begun to be used.
· Arrangements for information evenings for parents of EAL students are to be praised.
· The need to appoint an EAL co-ordinator has been recognised.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is imperative that the resources allocated for English language support (22 hours) should be utilised for the purpose to which they have been assigned. Significant adjustments in this regard, to ensure compliance with this recommendation, should be made at the earliest possible opportunity.
· An EAL co-ordinator should be appointed as rapidly as possible.
· A clear focus should be maintained on advancing the language of instruction in both EAL support and mainstream class contexts.
· The IILT language proficiency benchmarks should be utilised by both EAL and mainstream teachers as an important element in assessing students’ progress.
· The use of writing frames in particular, and other DARTS activities should be highlighted in the EAL policy which is currently being developed, for use in both EAL support and mainstream subject classes.
· A workable policy dealing with the use of bilingual or learner dictionaries should be created.
A meeting was held with members of the EAL teaching team and the principal following the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, November 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board wishes to express its gratitude and satisfaction with the positivity of the report. It would also wish to acknowledge the professionalism displayed by The Department in its dealings with Bishopstown Community School. The recommendations made in the report have been discussed by all parties concerned. Some recommendations have already been implemented, while the remaining will be fulfilled within the current academic year.