The Department of Science and Education
Subject Inspection Report
on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
FCJ Secondary School, Bunclody, Co. Wexford
Name of School FCJ Secondary School, Bunclody, Co. Wexford
Roll number 63550Q
Principal Sr. Madeleine Ryan
Chairperson of the
Board of Management Michael Dee, c/o FCJ Secondary School, Bunclody, Co. Wexford
Contact Details Tel: (054) 77308; Fax: (054) 77981; E-mail: email@example.com
School Enrolment 710
Curriculum programmes offered in the school
Junior Certificate; Transition Year; Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme; Leaving Certificate
Inspected subject Irish
Junior Cycle Four periods per week in first year, five periods per week in second and third year
Senior Cycle Three periods per week in transition year, five periods
per week in fifth and sixth year
Subject Inspection Information
Date of subject inspection 9 December 2004
Inspection Focus Teaching and learning of Irish at Junior Certificate Level
Inspection activities carried out
Meeting with the principal
Meeting with Irish teachers
Meeting with Irish co-ordinator
Observation of the following classes: 1st Year, 2nd Year, 3rd year
One-to-one feedback to teachers
Oral communication with pupils
Observation of pupils’ work
Feedback to the principal and the co-ordinator
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Irish
Provision for the Subject and All-school Support
There is an intake of about 150 pupils in first year. They are divided into five groups at the beginning of the year. The thirty most able pupils are placed in one class and the other four groups contain pupils of mixed ability. The same arrangement applies in second year and then the pupils are grouped according to core-subjects in third year.
There are ten teachers teaching Irish in the school. Classes are moved about between them as much as possible to give each teacher the opportunity to teach different classes and levels.
There are two higher level and three ordinary level classes at Junior Certificate level. There is only one higher level class at Leaving Certificate level although there are often two such classes at the beginning of fifth year. It is felt that the number of pupils studying for higher level in both Junior and Senior Level is quite small considering the support of management and of Irish teachers for the subject. The teachers are advised to discuss this issue to see is there any practical way to increase higher level numbers.
A programme of events is organized during ‘Irish Week’ in the school, including a poster competition, a poetry competition, bingo, a quiz, plays in class and a concert. During this week much emphasis is placed on communicating in the Junior Cycle. The work and enthusiasm of the teachers in these initiatives is praiseworthy. It is essential to let the pupils experience Irish as a living language and this can only be of assistance to teachers in class. It is recommended that these activities be continued but it is also recommended that the programme of events be developed and extended as much as possible, and also to have both pupils and members of staff give their proposals and opinions concerning this matter. It is also recommended that extra emphasis be laid on spoken Irish in each class during Irish week, not only in Senior Cycle classes.
School debates are organised from time to time. Pupils are encouraged to take part in the Raidió na Gaeltachta competition and TG4 programmes are used, especially in Transition Year. Quite a high percentage of the school’s pupils go to the Gaeltacht at least once. The school awards one scholarship each year but it was reported that teachers themselves feel that the way the winning pupil is selected needs to be changed. It is recommended that the way the said scholarship is allocated be reviewed to ensure that the pupil and the school make the best use possible of the money spent.
It was reported that the school has a tradition of supporting the teaching and learning of Irish.
Planning and Preparation
The Irish department has a formal meeting at the beginning of the year and subsequently different subject teachers are given time to meet up as part of general staff meetings. Questions such as exams, Irish Week and the school Gaeltacht scholarship are discussed at these meetings.
One teacher has been nominated as the co-ordinator of the teaching and learning of Irish, and this is classified a special duty post. This custom is to be highly recommended. Teachers’ class plans for the different classes were made available. There is clearly a high level of co-operation between teachers, under the direction of the co-ordinator and all the planning carried out by the teachers is praiseworthy. However it is recommended that teachers build on all the planning that has been done until now and that a more comprehensive plan for the teaching and learning of Irish in the school be put together, in the context of a ‘School Development Plan’. Such a plan would include the development of language skills, including spoken Irish, classroom strategies for reluctant learners, the use of language games in the class and the continuous and effective use of the Irish language media. It is also recommended that teachers discuss the possibilities offered by the use of new technologies in the teaching of the language and that plans be made for pupils to have access to the relevant rooms and facilities on at least a few occasions each year. It is important to show pupils that Irish is a modern living language which can be used in every area of contemporary life.
Careful planning was carried out for all the classes that were observed. The classes accordingly went smoothly. A series of worksheets was prepared for use in class and as part of their homework. The teachers are to be highly praised for the effort they put into planning.
Teaching and Learning
The Irish used as teaching language, as language of communication and as language of management was excellent in all the classes that were observed. Teachers only spoke in Irish to pupils as they moved around the class to help individual pupils. Valiant efforts were also made in class to avoid translating from Irish to English and teachers used different strategies to ensure the pupils understand instructions and what is being taught. The zeal and interest of the teachers in this regard is highly praiseworthy. The use of the target language as the language of discourse in the classroom is central to the teaching of any language and this has obviously been taken to heart in Irish class in this school. It is recommended that this very important practice be kept up. One event that came to our attention was the way a poem was taught on one occasion by translating the poem to simple Irish instead of English so that pupils would have an initial basic understanding of the subject matter and themes of the poem. This is good practice.
The teachers were energetic and enthusiastic in their teaching of the classes that were observed. The pupils were polite and participated in the work of the different classes. Pupils who had difficulties getting to grips with the subject matter or answering questions were dealt with patiently and special note was made of the good atmosphere in the classes.
Pupils were continually being asked questions in the classes that were observed. Pupils tried their best to answer the teacher’s questions in Irish and this is to be highly praised. It is however recommended that whole sentences be sought as responses rather than individual words, irrespective of how simple the sentences are. When new vocabulary or expressions are being taught teachers are advised to tell pupils straight away to put them in sentences to show that they understand them and that they can apply them in speech and in writing.
An honourable mention can also be given to the use of pairwork and groupwork in one class that was observed. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all classes in which it would be appropriate. It is important to constantly create opportunities for pupils to develop their self-confidence and to give them a chance to use the Irish they learn in different contexts.
In the classes that were observed a range of different tasks was undertaken and this approach is very praiseworthy. It was felt that this was of help to teachers in integrating all the language skills. Differentiation also helps to keep pupils concentrating on and interested in the contents of the lesson. In one case it was noted that the teacher informed the class of every subject area they would be dealing with in class. This ensured that the pupils knew exactly what was going on and it also ensured that the class went smoothly as a consequence. This approach is admirable.
In various classes that were observed a connection was made between the contents of the lesson and the everyday life of the pupils. This approach is praiseworthy because it lets the pupils see that Irish is a living language that can be used in different contexts. It was noted that some classes started with general conversation about what the pupils had done the previous day. This is very admirable but it is also recommended that more time be spent on this to give the pupils the chance to talk about their life. It will take them a while to get used to unstructured (free) communication but it is worth doing because it provides pupils with a very valuable opportunity for communication.
It is recommended that regular use be made of a wider range of facilities and resources in teaching the language. The use of videos, of an overhead projector, of posters, of material taken from TG4 and from RnaG and other sources to make teaching and learning more interesting and more attractive to both pupils and teachers is recommended.
Assessment and Achievement
Formal in-school examinations are held twice a year, at Christmas and in summer. Mock examinations are held for the exam classes at other appropriate times throughout the year. Parents are sent reports after those exams.
Teachers who teach the same classes have the same teaching programme for those classes and first, second and third-years are given the same exam. This co-operation is to be highly praised. Efforts are made to include continuous assessment as part of the assessment system for fifth and sixth year. Some teachers hold oral exams with different classes. It is recommended that teachers hold discussions re having a shared system of assessment and that ability in speaking Irish and other language skills be assessed as part of that system.
Teachers are recommended not to give more than one and a half hours of homework to first year pupils. Apart from that general instruction the allocation of homework is left at the discretion of teachers themselves. It was clear from the observation of homework books that homework was given and corrected regularly and the teachers are to be praised for the effort they make in this respect. It was also felt that the work in the homework books was varied: there were grammar exercises, notes and creative work. It is recommended that the teachers come to an agreement about using the same correction policy, a policy that would ensure that a mark or a grade is given to the homework as well as general comment regarding the progress being made in the homework and how good it is.
Summary of Main Findings and Recommendations made after the Inspection
These are the main findings and recommendations arising from the subject inspection. They are intended to help the school and the staff to deliver the subject as well and as effectively as possible:
▪ The teachers’ efforts regarding organising extracurricular and crosscurricular activities during ‘Irish Week’ are worthy of praise.
▪ The practice of nominating a co-ordinator for Irish, and this being a special-duty post, is praised.
▪ Praise is given to the amount of planning teachers have put into the teaching and learning of Irish to date, and the careful planning that had been done for the classes that were observed.
▪ The use of Irish as management, teaching and communication language was excellent in the classes that were observed. The teachers’ enthusiasm in this respect is to be praised as are the valiant efforts made not to translate things into English.
▪ In the classes that were observed teachers were energetic and enthusiastic.
▪ It was noted that there was a good relationship between teachers and pupils and that there was a good atmosphere in the classes.
▪ Praise is due for the way in which pupils were given a range of tasks to complete in class, thus ensuring that their interest and their attention was maintained throughout the lessons.
▪ Praise is due for the co-operation between teachers in regard to the planning and organising of exams
To build on these strong points these recommendations are made for all relevant staff:
▪ It is recommended that ways be looked at to increase the number of pupils who do the higher level course at Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate Level.
▪ It is recommended that the views of both pupils and staff are sought as regards the development of the programme of events in Irish in the school.
▪ It is recommended that the planning done by teachers to date be built on and that a comprehensive plan be put together for the teaching and learning of Irish in the context of ‘School Development Planning’.
▪ It is recommended that whole sentences be sought from pupils when answering questions.
▪ It is recommended that the pairwork that was observed in some classes be built on and that this practice be extended to all classes. It is also recommended that steps be taken to ensure that sufficient opportunities for communication are created for pupils in all classes.
▪ It is recommended that steps are taken to ensure that a connection is made between the pupil’s everyday life and the contents of the lesson.
▪ It is recommended that a wider range of facilities and resources be used in the teaching of Irish than just the textbook.
▪ It is recommended that teachers adopt a shared assessment system and that they agree a system that would ensure that communication in Irish is assessed as well as other language skills.
▪ It is recommended that teachers discuss and agree upon a common correction policy for homework books.
Date of Inspection: 9th December 2004