An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Evaluation of English as an Additional Language (EAL)
Mullingar, County Westmeath
Roll number: 63290Q
Date of inspection: 14 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 Loreto College, Mullingar, County Westmeath. 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.
Loreto College, Mullingar is a voluntary secondary school under the trusteeship of the Loreto order. It is the only all-girls school in Mullingar and is highly valued and of long standing in the community. Its admissions policy is open and inclusive and caters for a diverse student intake. The school provides a range of programmes to meet the needs of its student cohort to include the Leaving Certificate (LC), the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), Transition Year (TY) and Junior Certificate programmes. In Loreto College, Transition Year is designated fourth year.
The school has an allocation of three whole-time teachers or sixty-six hours specifically for the teaching of English as an additional language (EAL). Twelve of these hours are used for direct support. In the majority of cases, individual students receive two support lessons a week, while three are provided for all fourth year students irrespective of proficiency. The school uses the remaining hours to create smaller classes for all students. While this benefits all students including those receiving EAL support, evidence gathered during the course of the evaluation suggests that a more targeted use of the hours would be more effective. It is strongly recommended that the allocation be used to provide a flexible support system that is adjusted to the needs of individual EAL students.
It is greatly to the credit of the school that, following the recommendations of a whole-school evaluation (WSE) in October 2006, Loreto College has been proactive and has already implemented significant change in provision for EAL students. A core team of EAL teachers has been established to provide direct support for students. Currently, there are three qualified post-primary teachers in place and all have a very strong commitment to the teaching of EAL. All three have qualifications and experience although none has a language background. None of the teachers has permanent employment status in the school. In the medium to long term, and taking due cognisance of the needs of the school, this is a matter that should be examined and measures taken to build team capacity, to ensure continuity of provision and to enhance the status of the EAL department.
The school’s normal admission procedures apply for those who enrol in first year. While the school has adequate mechanisms for gathering information from the primary school for the generality of its student intake, a more targeted approach is needed in the case of EAL students and it is therefore suggested that a member of the EAL core team engage with the feeder schools in parallel with the system operating for students in receipt of learning support. Those who enrol at different times or in different year groups are interviewed by a member of the senior management team. Once assigned to class groups, EAL students are placed in support classes based on initial assessments that are administered by a member of the EAL core team. The teachers use assessment instruments they have found useful and have devised their own to complement these instruments. Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) materials are also referred to and in combination with the above, placement assessment takes cognisance of the three proficiency levels and indeed, gradations within these levels. The team is commended for the efforts made to develop appropriate assessment instruments.
While there is considerable diversity in the range of needs in the school, and in a small minority of cases, these are extreme, a full-blown immersion programme does not seem warranted at the present time, given the relatively small numbers involved at the most elementary stage. This needs to be reviewed on an ongoing basis. It may be considered desirable to integrate a partial immersion programme into the first-year induction programme. An individually tailored model could be developed for those who enrol at different times or in different year groups. At present, the number of such students enrolling in older year groups appears to be relatively low.
Students are placed in mixed-ability support classes according to their year group. The number in each group varies from two to eight students. They are withdrawn from Irish twice a week. During the remaining Irish lessons, they work on their own or may go to the school’s supervised study. There is no stepped approach to progression since there are no discrete groups for the three proficiency levels. Two options are available: students either remain in the same EAL class and a differentiated approach is adopted by the teachers, or they are fully reintegrated into classes. It is commendable that occasional support can be provided to students who are fully immersed in mainstream classes in response to a specific identified needs. It is reported that EAL students who are at the advanced stage of proficiency prefer to remain in language-support classes rather than spend time in independent study. During the evaluation considerable variation in language competence was observed within groups. Team teaching is being tried out in the first-year support class and it seems to be working well. However, this needs to be reviewed on an ongoing basis. It may be necessary to divide the students into discrete groups in line with their developing proficiency and in order to provide more focus on the language of instruction across the curriculum. The school should examine a wider range of options including team teaching, in mainstream classes, for specific subjects that students find challenging. It is recommended that a much more graduated support structure be developed to benefit students at all three stages of language development and to ensure stepped progression. The targeted use of the allocated hours would facilitate this. During the evaluation, some class periods of a non-instructional nature appear on the senior-cycle timetable. This should be examined with a view to organising additional targeted support for EAL students and content should have a strong focus on the language of instruction.
Loreto College is highly commended for the care it gives to each student’s education and EAL students have access to the full curriculum. A good range of subjects is on offer. While the needs and interests of students are considered, there are systemic obstacles to choice in the case of all students in the junior cycle. Access to subject options is limited due to the fact that there are a large number of obligatory subjects in the junior cycle. This was highlighted in the WSE report of 2006. The subject options should be examined to ensure that the learning needs of EAL students are catered for and to allow them to avail of the full repertoire of practical subjects that the school can provide. Senior cycle students have access to a very good range of subjects. However, these are conditioned largely by the options available in the junior cycle. Therefore major review of junior cycle options is advised. For the last few years, few have opted for the sciences in the LC programme, therefore the use of EAL hours to create smaller science classes in the junior cycle should be reviewed.
Measured assessment outcomes indicate that some EAL students reach very high standards of attainment. However, it was observed that a number of students are taking a range of subjects at ordinary level. It was also noted that some students are achieving extremely high grades in LC foundation level Mathematics. Such students should be encouraged to take ordinary level at the very least. An analysis should take place to establish patterns of uptake and achievement in order to target interventions with the goal of raising academic expectation and of ensuring that EAL students are achieving their full potential. It is commendable that EAL students are encouraged to take their home language in the Leaving Certificate examination as this helps to increase their chances of accessing third-level courses.
Guidance on subject and programme options is provided for all students and a very good service is particularly available in the senior cycle. There is no specific guidance focus for EAL students. It is reported that many senior cycle EAL students are highly motivated and are proactive in accessing career information. Information on programmes and subjects is disseminated to parents of incoming first-year students at open nights and in standard school documentation. However no documents are available in languages other than English. Translation and interpretation services have not been accessed. The school reports that the implications of not having Irish are fully explained to students and their parents in a formal context. This is of great importance in view of the fact that very few EAL students take Irish in the school. It is recommended that specific measures be taken to target guidance at students whose home language is not English throughout the school. Formal documents on the implications of not studying Irish (in a range of languages) would be worth including in school documentation. It is commendable that the guidance department has tracked the progression of the 2007 LC students. Indications suggest that a greater focus on attainment and guidance may be necessary for EAL students, while taking full cognisance of capacity and other personal and social factors.
EAL students remain in Religious Education (RE) classes but do not participate if there are parental objections. Many take RE for their Junior Certificate examination irrespective of faith and it is reported that they are very active participants and contribute in a very positive way to the interfaith and intercultural ethos of RE, both in and outside the classroom. This is highly commended.
There is informal contact between the teachers of EAL and mainstream teachers but this is largely at an individual level. The EAL team has devised a progress report that is very useful in tracking students across the curriculum. The progress document provides the EAL teacher with useful information. It is recommended that this very good initiative be developed further. It should be used as a medium for gathering information from subject teachers across a range of competencies and on a very regular and formal basis. This would facilitate the ongoing and accurate monitoring of students’ progress in curricular subjects and thus inform planning and practice in support settings.
The EAL team has been very active in developing a range of resources, particularly text resources, in the last two years and this is commended. There is no dedicated room for the teaching of EAL. One member of the core team is based in the Art room. While this offers possibilities for flexible seating arrangements, the tables are not suitable. Other teachers move between classrooms but efforts have been made to base some in the learning-support room and this has been found helpful. The school was scheduled to start a building programme in May 2007 but this has been delayed. It is acknowledged that the school’s accommodation problems are significant and ongoing. Within its resources, it is recommended that the school designate a specific classroom for EAL in order to provide a base for learning, to house shared resources and to allow the team to develop a strong intercultural atmosphere. The school is conscious of the need to enhance its information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure. Delays in the development of the school building plan have affected the ICT plan and this has impacted on all areas of the curriculum, to include EAL. Apart from researching materials on the internet, there is very little use of ICT and there are at present no designated EAL resources such as laptops or personal computers. Until the development programme is completed this may remain an ongoing challenge. Therefore consideration should be given to accessing funding from an alternative source for the specific purpose of developing a range of ICT and audio-visual materials and facilities for EAL students.
The school has a spacious and well-lit library. It is suggested that the school develop a stock of books in students’ home languages to help them maintain their literacy levels. Information should be accessed through the county library services, support agencies and specialist publishers. Parents of the EAL students and members of ethnic communities may also be in a position to offer advice and support and this would be a constructive way of involving them in school development.
The EAL team is strongly committed to continuous professional development. Team members have engaged with the English Language Support Teachers’ Association (ELSTA) and are alert to, and have attended, courses and engaged in professional dialogue with practitioners in other schools and learning settings. In their efforts, they are fully supported by management. Additional training is scheduled to be provided by the Department of Education and Science through the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) early in 2009 and this should be of great benefit to teachers of EAL. There is a significant need for continuous professional development (CPD) in the area of EAL in all subject areas. While considerable efforts have been made already by some individuals, there is a need to embed an intercultural ethos. It is recommended that this be prioritised in the context of whole-staff development. The EAL team could share good practice with the staff in a whole-staff context.
School management is commended for its level of commitment to addressing one of the key recommendations of the 2006 WSE report in order to ensure that “measures to improve the learning opportunities and meaningful integration of international students should be introduced.” In addition to the building of a core team as referred to above, the school established a special duties post in the area of interculturalism and a policy has been written up. Preliminary work completed involved the designing of a profile document, the compiling of a folder with details about the students, the celebration of difference by mounting a display in one of the school corridors, and attendance at two intercultural events designed to raise awareness. This is very positive progress. The profile document is useful but should be reviewed and IILT materials could be consulted. Duties attached to the post were finalised and transferred to a post-holder around the time of the EAL evaluation. The incumbent will have a key role in developing the intercultural policy further. The policy should be fully reviewed to take cognisance of the publication Intercultural Education in the Post Primary School – Guidelines for Schools (NCCA, 2006), circular 53/2007 and other recent relevant documents. The integration post has no role in the co-ordination of EAL. In the context of future reviews, it may be considered advantageous to integrate EAL co-ordination with the duties attached to the intercultural role contingent on the ongoing needs of the school.
The school’s core policies are underpinned by an inclusive culture. However, there is no specific focus on EAL students. Moreover, no school policies have been made available in a range of languages. This matter should be addressed as a priority. School documents and policies should be translated into some, at least, of the school’s most frequently occurring home languages as should all health and safety instructions in practical subjects.
There is no formal planning structure in place to support EAL provision. The role of the co-ordinator is not formalised, no time has been allocated to facilitate formal meetings of the core team and there is no time allocated for administration. As a key recommendation, formal structures should be instituted. The role of co-ordinator should be placed on a formal footing. In the short to medium term, it may be necessary to undertake this role on a voluntary basis. The role could be rotated to distribute responsibility and leadership. It is highly desirable that this should ultimately be a post of responsibility. Administrative time should be allocated to the post holder.
To date, meetings of the team have been informal and minutes have been kept. It is greatly to the credit of the team that so much progress in planning has been made in a relatively short time since the issue was highlighted in the WSE report of 2006. To assist the team in the development of their role and to allow them to develop the plan for EAL further, it is strongly recommended that formal meeting times be specifically allocated to the core team in order to develop policy and for planning. Some of the allocated EAL hours could be used for essential co-ordination, administrative and planning purposes.
The team is currently in the process of developing an EAL policy. In order to design an effective policy, it is suggested that wide and meaningful consultation take place to include the EAL students themselves, their parents or guardians, general staff (teaching and non-teaching), the student body and relevant members of the community. The board of management should monitor progress. The policy should then be completed and sent to the board of management for ratification. A review date should be set.
A plan has been developed for EAL that includes detailed programmes of work and this is highly commended. Other areas that should be documented are teaching methods and a CPD plan. A policy on assessment should be integrated into the EAL plan. The team should carry out an audit of existing resources and catalogue them. The folder should also be made available in electronic format to facilitate ease of amendment. It is advisable to keep comprehensive records on students’ progress as they develop competence.
Links with other departments are informal at the present time. Individual teachers seek advice regarding specific students and their initiative is commended in this regard. Some subject teachers have given keyword lists to the EAL team. A few departments have an EAL policy and some are currently working on one. A formal interface should be developed between the EAL department and subject departments. This may involve, for example, occasional attendance by a member of the EAL at other subject department meetings. It is recommended that subject departments take cognisance of the specific learning needs of EAL students in the course of developing and implementing planning. Subject plans should record a range of resources and specific teaching strategies to ensure that EAL students fully access the subject and achieve their potential. Each subject plan should show evidence of differentiation both in content, process and assessment. The previously mentioned NCCA publication Intercultural Education in the Post Primary School – Guidelines for Schools should be examined by each department and an audit carried out.
Planning for year groups and for individual lessons in specific EAL support contexts is good. To develop planning further, there should be more explicit focus on the language of instruction in the EAL plan and this should be mirrored in every lesson.
When planning for staff development, mainstream teachers would benefit from in-service training in all aspects of EAL teaching, including assessment and this could be provided in-house.
During the course of the evaluation, three support lessons and four mainstream lessons were observed across the junior and senior cycle.
Lessons in mainstream classes were all purposeful. Good practice was observed where the theme of the day’s lesson was written on the board in one case. In many cases, the learning intention was implicit. In support lessons, students were given a clear idea of what would be covered. In all lessons, the learning intention should be clearly communicated to students and planned learning outcomes should be shared with learners. The final stage of the lesson should establish if these outcomes have been achieved and should be used to summarise the lesson.
The creative use of resources is highly commended in support classes. Props were designed to assist in role play in a junior cycle lesson. In a senior cycle support class, video clips featured content that was challenging and reflected an international perspective. A useful handout with key words was disseminated to students in a mainstream lesson observed and this supported content. The board was used effectively in some lessons. For example, diagrams were drawn on the board to clarify problems and this was very helpful to students. The board was less effectively used for writing out detailed notes to be copied verbatim by students and then learned off. Other more efficient ways, such as typed handouts, could be distributed, with keywords highlighted and glossed: this would benefit not only EAL students but all of those who find learning challenging. An overhead projector with prepared acetates could also be used. Some lessons were too text dependent: no use was made of visual resources that would help students understand difficult concepts, there was no use of graphic organisers and no non-verbal clues were used. It is recommended that a range of resources be used to help EAL students understand lesson content. In all lessons, and taking into account the issue of availability and access, ICT should be integrated to assist EAL students. It is commendable that students are encouraged to have bi-lingual dictionaries in all lessons.
A good range of teaching strategies and learning activities was observed in support contexts and some mainstream subjects. Practical demonstration was effective in a class visited. It is commendable that in some lessons, pair work was in evidence and collaborative learning was facilitated. In a mainstream lesson, the students were set a problem based on board work and the teacher circulated to give assistance to individual students. This represents good practice. In some mainstream lessons, a more traditional and didactic approach informed activity. Such practice should be reviewed. There should be far greater emphasis on active and collaborative learning. In general, teachers should be cognisant of the need to remain in students’ line of sight when communicating with the class group.
Methods to extend speaking skills and develop confidence were observed in some classes. In a support lesson observed, students brought in materials and gave a talk to their peers about their own culture, using the materials as props. In a mainstream lesson, students were invited to talk about their own experience in order to prepare them for the topic being taught and this gave students, including EAL students, an opportunity not only to speak but to share their experience and provided a foundation for learning. This is good practice. EAL students were encouraged to read out their answers and this is also useful in building confidence. As an area for development, there should be more focused teaching of subject language, both written and oral, in all lessons. While no formal peer tutoring was observed in lessons, students had the opportunity to support each other informally while the teacher was circulating around the classroom. In all lessons, EAL students should be encouraged to speak at some point in order to develop their proficiency in cognitive academic language and to build confidence. More needs to be done to develop writing skills in the area of instructional language. In the classrooms visited, students were very attentive and highly motivated in almost all cases. The quality of their written work was good and many had reached an advanced stage of language learning and oral proficiency.
In some mainstream lessons, EAL students were not dispersed throughout the classroom but tended to sit with their groups. While it is understandable that students should gravitate towards their peers, teachers in mainstream settings need to be vigilant and should develop ways of supporting inclusion and collaboration between newcomer and native students, for example through organised pair and group work.
Many students have achieved at a very high level in the past. All EAL students are taught in a supportive learning environment.
Formative assessment is practised and this is commended. There is ongoing monitoring of students’ progress and mainstream teachers are requested to give feedback to the EAL teacher on a case-by-case basis through the progress report referred to above. Oral feedback is given to students during lessons. Good practice was observed where EAL students were encouraged to develop their answers. In some mainstream lessons, more should be done to give written feedback in copies. In support lessons, EAL students maintained portfolios of work and this is commended. When evaluating learning outcomes for individual EAL students, the EAL team should examine attainment over a range of subjects. Significant discrepancies should be investigated and solutions found. A range of possibilities should be examined to include the suitability of the subject and the level at which it is being studied, and the methods and resources used in one subject versus another. Placement assessment has been referred to above. Record keeping was good in all lessons.
Communicating with parents takes place through the standard parent-teacher meetings and meetings with individuals. This works well for many parents and students. However, in some cases, communication with parents is a challenge due to the language barrier. While siblings (in some cases, older and no longer in second level education) are called upon from time to time to translate and interpret, this is not a desirable method of communication and the school should consider other options. IILT materials should be examined and could be adapted to the school’s needs. As a key recommendation, the school should develop a range of mechanisms for improving communication with parents of EAL students in all year groups.
Loreto College Mullingar is characterised by a caring ethos and senior management takes the lead in this regard. The pastoral care system is working efficiently and the year heads have a significant involvement in the pastoral care of all students, including EAL students. Each class has a form teacher. However, form teachers have no formal time for meeting their classes. Efforts are made to ensure that they teach their classes a curricular subject and any duties attached to the role of form teacher may be carried out either during tuition time or outside class. The WSE report of 2006 strongly urged that designated time be given to form teachers to carry out their pastoral duties. In view of their additional educational needs, and unless and until the form teacher meeting time is changed, the role of EAL teachers could be written up to include a specifically pastoral role and designated time could be allocated to them to perform this very important task. The intercultural post could involve further development of supports for newcomer students in general and for EAL students in particular, working in conjunction with the EAL co-ordinator.
It is acknowledged that among a minority of EAL students, serious absenteeism is an ongoing obstacle both to full inclusion and to the development of language proficiency. Targeted strategies are necessary in the case of such students, in addition to the general measures taken. The school does not have disadvantaged status and therefore is not allocated a full-time home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator. It is commendable that the board of management recognises a HSCL co-ordinator, at assistant principal level, to perform the valuable function of developing relationships with parents and guardians. However, with just three periods a week available, the functions attached to such a role are limited by time constraints. The HSCL co-ordinator has made some effort to forge links with parents and guardians of absentee EAL students but with limited success and the language barrier, mobility and work commitments of parents are cited as obstacles to communication and contact. A multi-faceted and proactive approach may be required. Strategies such as the development of links with EAL students’ own community representatives and specific measures such as the use of interpreters and translations could go some way towards ensuring a more effective two-way line of communication with parents and guardians of students with attendance problems.
The school has a mentoring system. Senior prefects look after small groups of first years and help them to settle into the school and this is reported to be effective. Consideration could be given to the appointment of a senior prefect specifically for EAL students to complement this role. In parallel with this, and to cater for students who enrol in other year groups, a formal “buddy” system could be considered, where a designated student from within her own class group is assigned to support a student and to aid her inclusion.
The relationship between the learning-support and EAL departments is good but informal. About four of the EAL students are currently receiving learning support. Some were identified in the transfer from the primary school while others were identified through referral. This is cited as a difficulty since poor language competence may initially mask learning support needs. The learning-support co-ordinator uses appropriate tests that have been found useful. It is recommended that the relationship between the learning support and EAL departments be formalised: thus, for example, it should be possible for the EAL co-ordinator to meet the learning support department in a formal context on an occasional basis to plan for those students who have needs in both areas. Both co-ordinators could give joint in-service to mainstream curricular teachers in order to help the subject teacher more quickly identify students who may have learning-support needs that are masked by language needs.
Personal guidance and support are available to all students. Students can be referred to the guidance counsellor through an established referral system. The intercultural co-ordinator should now document and develop a range of inclusive practices in relation to the support of newcomer students, including EAL students, in the context of reviewing the existing policy. The school should also consider a wide range of external links in addition to those that are currently in place.
All students can enjoy a good range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, particularly games. The school should consider a wider range of activities particularly targeted at EAL students and capitalising on their unique strengths and interests. These activities are an effective way of developing relationships between ethnic and native students and promoting an intercultural ethos. If possible, clubs could be established at lunch time. The efforts of the EAL team to establish a culture club are highly commended in this regard.
Every effort is made to meet the needs of EAL students in a caring learning environment. EAL students encountered during the evaluation expressed themselves happy with the level of support they are receiving.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· It is greatly to the credit of the school that, following the recommendations of a whole-school evaluation (WSE) in October 2006, Loreto College has been proactive and has already implemented significant change in provision for EAL students. A core team of EAL teachers has been established to provide direct support for students and a special duties post with responsibility for developing an intercultural ethos has been filled
· The school’s admissions policy is open and inclusive and caters for a diverse student intake.
· The school has an enthusiastic and professional EAL core team with a clear commitment to continuous professional development and the development of planning. The department has a strong collaborative ethos and has met informally and has developed assessment instruments and planning for EAL.
· There is a good level of informal contact between the EAL team and the other subject departments, including the learning support department.
· Loreto College is characterised by a caring ethos. The pastoral care system is working efficiently and the year heads have a significant involvement in the pastoral care of all students, including EAL students.
· Students have access to the full curriculum.
· Measured assessment outcomes indicate that some EAL students reach very high standards of attainment.
· Students are facilitated to take their home languages at LC level thus increasing their chances of accessing third-level courses.
· The board of management recognises a HSCL co-ordinator, at assistant principal level, to perform the valuable function of developing relationships with parents and guardians.
· EAL students encountered during the evaluation expressed themselves happy with the level of support they are receiving.
· Some subject departments have developed an EAL policy and are proactive in supplying keyword lists to the EAL department.
· Very good methods and resources appropriate to the needs of EAL students are used in support classes and some mainstream classes.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The teaching allocation of sixty-six hours should be used appropriately to provide a flexible support system that is adjusted to the needs of individual EAL students at each stage of proficiency.
· Formal structures should be put in place to support the development of planning and policy in the area of EAL; some of the allocated sixty-six hours could be used for this purpose. Assessment policy and practice specifically related to EAL should be developed.
· A number of strategies should be considered to improve communication with parents, including the translation of school documents and policies into the most frequently occurring home languages. All health and safety instructions and statements should be provided in a range of languages.
· Planned learning outcomes related to the acquisition of the language of instruction should be fully detailed in the overall EAL plan and mirrored in individual schemes and lessons.
· Subject department planning should ensure the development and use of a good range of appropriate methods and resources and cognisance should be taken of the special learning needs of EAL students. All subject departments should develop a policy on EAL.
· The guidance department should ensure that procedures and policy are clearly documented and take account of the special needs of EAL students.
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 May 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection