An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Muckross Park College
Donnybrook, Dublin 4
Roll number: 60710U
Date of inspection: 5 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Muckross Park College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in History and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
There is strong management support for History in the school. All students take History in junior cycle, in which all classes are mixed ability and are allocated three class periods per week. All students take Transition Year and History forms a core component of the programme. There are four mixed-ability classes in the year and they each have two class periods per week. In fifth and sixth years, there is a good uptake in History, and class groups have five class periods per week. All students in fifth and sixth years are currently following the higher level course in Leaving Certificate History.
The school has only recently moved into a new building, and teachers and students alike are acclimatising to the new environment. The facilities are conducive to teaching and learning, and the building is very well equipped. The classrooms are teacher-based and are still in the process of being fitted out and developed to suit their requirements. Very good use is being made of the space and height of the rooms, and much illustrative material has already been installed.
One of the features of the new school building is the well-equipped school library which is in the process of being arranged to best suit the requirements of the teachers and students. There is a full-time librarian, who is assisted by students in running the library. There are book, internet, and archive areas in the library. These facilities make it ideal for research and for the study of History.
Internet broadband has been supplied to the school, but its installation in classrooms has been delayed until all areas are ready to receive their ICT facilities. At present there is a computer room which can be used, on a timetabled basis, by classes, but full ICT usage awaits finalising of building and fitting out.
There is an open system of subject choice for students entering fifth year. Students declare their ideal choices, and a computer programme is used to assist the maximising of subject choice for each student. This is reported to work very well. Teachers are given the opportunity to talk to Transition Year students about the Leaving Certificate syllabus in their subject. This gives students relevant information on which to base their choices of subject for fifth and sixth year..
While there is no budget as such for History in the school, all requests are considered by management and are granted within available resources. To date teachers reported that resources requested have been provided.
The History teaching team comprises five members who meet four times a year in a formal setting, and more often informally, in organising and planning their subject. There is evidence of good thought and experience in the planning documents produced by the History teachers. These plans cover short to mid-term arrangements, programmes, visits, methods and progress with the syllabus. They also include detailed plans for History outings, many of them local and accessible, and incorporating in the files, sample worksheets for these locations. These are examples of good practice and are commended.
It would further enhance the undoubtedly good planning process if one History teacher was appointed as co-ordinator, and the job rotated frequently, to enable all teachers to experience the organisation of planning and activities for their subject. It would also enhance the prospects for, and future development of, History if at least one planning meeting per year was devoted to strategic planning for the subject. History, and the teaching of History, are developing in terms of uptake and attainment. Plans for the management and future of the subject, its courses and modern methodologies, need to be considered as a priority.
Planning and preparation for the teaching of History are well managed in the school, and all lessons observed showed evidence of good forward planning, and the use of modern and topical materials which had clearly been developed along the way. There is also a strong cross-curricular theme in many classes, largely because most of the History teachers also teach other subjects. Teachers can bring the breadth of their experience to bear on the preparation and teaching of History. This is also good practice and shows good sharing and integration of skills by teachers in their approach to History.
There is a good tradition of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) among the History teachers, several of whom have taken courses to enhance their History and their teaching skills. This is to be encouraged. There is membership of the subject association, whose activities and seminars have been attended by the teachers. The History team has access to current History magazines and materials, which they use to inform themselves and to assist in the planning of their classes. There is evidence of networking with other History teachers and this is to be applauded. Most members of the History team have attended the current inservice courses provided for the new Leaving Certificate syllabus, and have gained much support and information from the sessions. There is a tradition in the school of teachers rotating their classes, and of following one class through to the conclusion of a cycle or programme. This is to be commended.
There is considerable expertise in ICT among the History teachers, both in terms of teaching the subject and in attending courses in computer skills. This experience in ICT helps the team in planning for the future. It is important that this is followed up and developed as so much of current methodology and resources are ICT-based, and new material is ideally produced for use with various ICT applications.
It is clear from the materials submitted, the meetings held and recorded, and the conduct of History classes, that the teachers are well prepared for the teaching and development of their subject. There is evidence of collegiality among the team and this is to be applauded, especially as the subject enters a new phase of development. The need for collective preparation and planning for the future are all the more essential at this time.
All classes inspected had been very well prepared: visual aids, documentary material, charts, maps and cartoons had all been organised in advance of lessons. Each topic was well and clearly introduced, and there was good use of the whiteboards in writing the topic title and the key words during the lessons so that the students could write down salient points in their notebooks.
A great deal of energy and imagination have gone into providing a print-rich environment for the students. This is particularly commendable given the fact that the building has only been in use for a few weeks. The attractive learning environment increased student motivation and interest.
Students in Transition Year (TY) study varying and contrasting topics in History and this is to be applauded. In both TY classes inspected, the themes were contemporary or of current interest. This is good practice in TY as it encourages students to become involved in their learning through interest and relevance. The preparation for these lessons was very good, and a variety of press supplements, duplicated documents, current affairs examples for newspapers and from television, compiled by the teachers, all played their part in getting students to offer opinions, to consider contemporary problems, and to evaluate statements for their veracity or otherwise. This is very good practice.
Group-work, where organised, worked very well, especially as groups were required to complete given tasks within a brief time limit. Students having to report on the deliberations of their own group was a positive means of encouraging them to state opinions, to justify points of view, and to see the wider picture all within the confines of a single class. This is excellent practice and reinforces the ideas that underpin the Transition Year. At the same time, skills were being learned and imparted which will greatly enhance students’ work at Leaving Certificate level should they choose to study History the following year. Transition Year History activities also included book reviews, discussion of foreign affairs issues, looking at relevant historical documents, and analysis of the day’s newspapers. Through these methods the students learned the principles of empathy and this is to be commended as it is one of the major aims in teaching History at all levels.
The junior cycle is being well served by active teaching methods and good reinforcement. It is important, in a room well-equipped with illustrative material and student work, to introduce this material into the lesson and this was done with great skill and focus. Students were included in the lesson in several ways and their work, both oral and written, was used to contribute to the progress of the class. The writing of notes, key works and the drawing of illustrations on the board by the teacher also helped greatly in directing students’ attention towards the main points of the lesson. Question and answer sessions were well directed, with specific and general questions being well mixed and guided towards positive dialogue on the lesson topic.
In all the classes inspected, there was a positive work dynamic, good rapport and mutual respect in evidence at all times. This is to be commended.
There was evidence of good research, project work, cross-curricular inputs, historical visits and field-work in the classes visited and in the teachers’ subject folders presented. The excellent school library, now being further developed, has a very good History section and is accessed regularly and used well by students, particularly in relation to their research work for the Leaving Certificate. Access to research facilities in the library and elsewhere is availed of by both fifth and sixth-year class groups as was evidenced during the inspection visit. This is reinforced by the use of contemporary materials including newspapers. All these examples represent good practice and should be continued and developed further.
Students are learning well and demonstrate a good interest and sound knowledge of History. To reinforce and develop this further, wider use of student group-work and pair-work, as seen in action in some classes, is recommended. This will assist in varying the pace of lessons and the classroom dynamic, to the benefit of the learning and teaching of History.
The enlargement of graphics, documents, images and maps for clarity of display in class will also enhance the already well-planned and delivered lessons. This will partly come with the development of audio-visual and ICT resources in the classroom, and is to be recommended as a priority as the fitting out and equipping of the building nears its completion. In any case, resource material can be prepared for the time when it can be deployed more efficiently. It is also advised that any such material should be generated and filed electronically so that it is both readily accessible and can be amended or developed as required. The work done so far is good, and the targets just referred to will reinforce and improve the delivery of History in the school for the future.
Classes are assessed throughout the year, through questioning in class, class-work, class tests, and homework assignments. Homework is set for all classes and teachers establish their own practices in regard to the giving and correction of students’ work. Homework is assessed and monitored by teachers, who keep progress records of each class. Students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) are generally integrated within mainstream classes. The school does not have Special Needs Assistants or learning support teachers.
There are in-house examinations twice a year for all non-certificate examinations classes. Third and sixth year classes have ‘mock’ examinations in the spring term. Written reports are sent home to parents twice a year.
Each year group has an annual parent-teacher meeting, and parents can consult the school outside of these meetings by contacting the principal. There are also information meetings for parents concerning the school (on entry of student to first year), Transition Year, fifth year and subject choices for senior cycle.
The majority of students take their History in Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate at higher level, although students are fully facilitated in taking the subject at ordinary level if it is appropriate to their needs, abilities and performance levels. Teachers advise students on appropriate levels in History well in advance of certificate examinations.
There is a good uptake rate in History for Leaving Certificate and students show good attainment across the board in the subject at both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate. This is to be applauded as there has been a consistently high rate of achievement and uptake in History in the school.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· History is well provided for in the school and is strongly backed by management
· In the new buildings, there are good facilities for History, with well-equipped subject-based rooms.
· There is an excellent library with a good History section and internet access, run by a full-time librarian assisted by senior students.
· The History teachers meet together four times a year, to plan for their subject. They have produced good plans and ideas, but no long-term strategic planning for their subject as yet.
· There is a good, open, subject choice system for students for senior cycle, where there is a good uptake in History.
· Classes are well prepared, materials readied in advance, and equipment and stimulus material is available in classrooms. The latter is sometimes used in teaching and learning.
· There is a good working atmosphere in all classes visited, students participate well in lessons, and a good rapport and mutual respect exist between students themselves and between students and teachers.
· There is good methodology in evidence in the teaching and learning of History.
· Good co-curricular and cross-curricular influences and activities are strongly in evidence in the subject at all levels.
· Good attainment levels in both junior and senior cycles characterise the achievements of History students.
· Parents are kept well-informed of their students’ progress, through frequent written reports and by annual parent-teacher meetings.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the History teachers and classes make full use of the excellent library facilities now becoming available
· There should be a dedicated strategic planning meeting once per year, within the allocation of time for subject meetings, for the History team.
· The inclusion of ICT in the teaching and learning of History should be a priority.
· It is recommended that there should be more student-centred or student-directed learning activities in History lessons.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of History and with the principal and teachers at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.