English Department

English Department

This page is an overview of English as a subject at St Columba's. However, visitors are also strongly advised to visit the Department's own site at www.sccenglish.ie, or via the link on this site. This contains a huge amount of information, including details of courses, departmental documents, and (in term-time) daily reports, information and pupils' work. It is fully described under 'Information Technology' below. It also links to the official Department of Education and Science subject inspection report, which was conducted in December 2007 (a summary is at the bottom of this page).

The Department, while one of the largest in the school, is still small, and meets formally and informally frequently, and thus closely co-ordinates both policy and practice. 


Julian Girdham, BA (Oxford University), HDipEd (Head of Department)

Liam Canning, BA (Dublin University), HDipEd

Annie Donnelly, BA, PGCS

Kate Smith, BA (University College, Dublin), PGDipEd 

Evan Jameson, BA (University College, Dublin), HDipEd (on leave 2016-17)



English is a compulsory subject for every pupil at St Columba's. All pupils have five lessons each week (except in II form, where there are four). Throughout the school, Literature and Language learning and teaching are closely integrated. English is not streamed or 'set' at any stage as a matter of policy and philosophy.   

Junior Cycle Student Award

2014-2015 saw the introduction of the Junior Cycle Student Award for I form only, and in 2016-17 English becomes the first subject to be formally completed under the JCSA. The Junior Certificate has now finished in English for ever. A special programme to respond to the JCSA has been developed (there is no external assessment in the first year).

The easiest way to see what is done for this state course is to go to the official JCSA site here.

In 2016-17 English, like all other subjects, starts using iPads in Primary and First Forms, opening up a whole variety of extra ways to approach the subject. The Firefly Learning portal will assist this (and will be used for all other Forms, too).

Generally, we aim to give a broad grounding in the basics of language and literature, partly through a wide variety of models, and in particular to enthuse our pupils to read a lot, and to think about what they read. This is a crucial element in the development of their own writing. In each of these years there is a weekly supervised reading class in the Library, during which pupils must read books associated with English. Primary, I and II are examined about their reading, and III form complete a major book report; all junior forms are also given suggested reading lists in association with the Library.

The Department also sets papers in the Junior Entrance Assessments, the Junior Scholarship Examination, and the major Pennefather Scholarship Examination (III form).    

Transition Year

For many years, the English Department has had its own specially-designed course, which focusses on substantial development of pupils' writing and reading skills in this crucial year, and bridging the considerable gap between the Junior and Leaving Certificates. This is a year when pupils are really stretched.

In the first term, pupils complete a major Extended Essay (of at least 3,000 words) on at least three different literary works by different authors. These are the special choices of each pupil, and focus on a major theme (such as love, family, war, childhood) which is then treated comparatively. While teachers offer advice and guidance, the essay is nevertheless researched, organised and written completely by pupils themselves. In the second part of the course, they complete a Work Portfolio of shorter pieces (stories, personal descriptions, essays) which is submitted at the end of the year. Both the Extended Essay and the Work Portfolio develop the crucial skills of drafting and re-drafting, and there are many examples on SCC English.

During the year a Shakespeare play is studied (in recent years Twelfth Night, Othello or Julius Caesar) and a major novel (recently To Kill a Mockingbird, Great Expectations, A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Moonstone or The Catcher in the Rye). In addition, pupils rotate to teachers other than their regular one in short courses on poetry (such as Yeats, Chaucer, Shakespeare and the visual image in poetry) and the use of film. Visits to theatre productions in Dublin are also an important part of the course. About one month into the year, selected pupils take part in the annual House Speech competition in front of the rest of the school (the remainder of the form support and advise them).

At the end of the year, pupils are awarded grades (the highest, Premier, is very difficult to achieve) on their entire year's work in an evening when the best Work Portfolio pieces are read out in front of their peers, parents, next year's TY, and a visiting expert, who comments on the pieces and on the nature of writing. In line with general College Transition Year policy, there are exams at the end of the first two terms.  

Senior Cycle

The Department follows the official Leaving Certificate course for these two years. Pupils are set at random, with no streaming at any stage during the course. The four sets have about 15 pupils each. For many years we have had a high level of take-up of the subject at Higher Level. This is possible in the Leaving Certificate course, since most of the material is common to both Higher and Ordinary Level (in the final term, extra directed tuition is given to the few pupils taking Ordinary Level papers). Click here for 2015 results, with links to preceding years. There are internal College exams at the end of every term.  

The Leaving Certificate itself is divided into two papers, the first concentrating on language tasks (comprehension and composition), and the second on literature.Therefore we study one major Shakespeare play (King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet or Othello), three texts (novels and plays) as part of a comparative question (such as, in recent years, Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa and Translations, Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Pat Barker's Regeneration, Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, F.Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Claire Keegan's Foster, Jennifer Johnston's How Many Miles to Babylon? and William Trevor's The Story of Lucy Gault), and eight prescribed poets (such as W.B. Yeats, Adrienne Rich, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, John Montague, Patrick Kavanagh, Eavan Boland, Elizabeth Bishop, Derek Mahon, John Keats and Emily Dickinson).

There are reports on Leaving Certificate results in English at these links (click the years) :- 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006.

Co-Curricular Activities

The Department is heavily involved in activities that complement and add to the curriculum. These include:

Information Technology

The Department is forward-looking and innovative. It embraces the use of technology in classrooms (such as in the use of digital projectors and an interactive whiteboard), in the preparation of classes, and especially in the widespread use of computers to research, compose and submit work during prep (evening study). This includes both the College computer network and pupils' own laptops. We are also conscious that computer work is just an enabling technology; our first priority is always the substance of literature and language. In 2010-11 we started using Google Docs extensively, particularly with the Transition Year, and we continue to spread the use of such online tools.

SCC English, the Department blog (www.sccenglish.ie), was opened in June 2006, and has become a major driving force behind and gathering place for work by pupils, among other uses. In December 2008 SCC English won the Best Group Blog title at the international Edublog Awards, and was also third in the Best Individual Blog category. In 2010 it was third in the group section at the same awards. In both 2008 and 2009 it was shortlisted as Best Blog in the Eircom Golden Spider Awards in Ireland. It is also a Scoilnet Starsite, a recommended Teachnet resource, and has featured in the magazines 'Teaching English', 'Conference and Common Room' and 'PC Live' ('Blogger in Profile' in April 2009), and at secondary school training sessions, including a presentation at the annual conference of the Computer Education Society of Ireland in 2011 and 'The Art of English Teaching' conference in Loughrea in February 2009. In 2014 it was again shortlisted in the Education category of the Irish Blog Awards.

In October 2009 the blog featured in a major article in the Irish Independent, here, called 'How to teach English to the Facebook generation'.

The Department started podcasting in March 2009, and broadcasts a range of interviews, book discussions and revision ideas, including Leaving Certificate revision sessions. It also has its own Twitter stream, concerned with all things English and technological.


The Department has published two books in the last two years, both collections of the best writing on its blog. Going Places was published in 2008, and Outside the Frame  in 2010. Both feature poems, essays, short stories, book recommendations and more by both pupils and staff. They also feature fine drawings and photography by many pupils. The books are available for purchase for '10 each from the Department by emailing scc.english 'at' yahoo.ie. It has also published two textbooks for internal use - Green Shoots for the Junior Cycle, and English 2016 and English 2017 for Leaving Certificate pupils.


The Department regards the College Library as one of its key resources. Opened in 1994 in a fine building in the central garden of the College, it has a well-funded and well-organised collection of 10,000 books, and particularly strong fiction and English Literature sections. The Department liaises on a daily basis with the professional Librarian, and as described in the 'Junior Cycle' Section, has an organised and regular scheme of reading classes in the building. The Librarian also teaches pupils about the use of the Library, and the skills needed in searching for information.  The Library also publishes its own excellent termly magazine, The Submarine.

Department of Education and Science Inspection Report (December 2007).

Below is the summary of 'main findings and recommendations'. The report also recommended two minor improvements, which we have implemented. The full report may be read via the link at www.sccenglish.ie.  

Summary of main findings and recommendations  
'The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:  

Common examinations are set and a common marking scheme is agreed by English teachers. Students are assessed on a regular basis. The English department has a specific homework policy. All students' work was corrected to a very high standard.'