An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection in History
Our Lady’s School
Templeogue Road, Terenure, Dublin 6W
Roll number: 60860Q
Date of inspection: 21 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Our Lady’s School. 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, deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
There is positive whole school support and good provision for History in Our Lady’s School. A strong tradition in History in the school is evidenced by documentation, displays and awards received by the students. An enthusiastic team of History teachers, some of them very experienced subject specialists, is supported by management.
All students take History to Junior Certificate in mixed-ability classes. The Transition Year Programme is taken by all students and a local studies module comprising both History and Geography rotates through the year so that all students can participate in it. It works on a mixed- ability basis and links with other disciplines through the module structure. There is a strong uptake in History in senior cycle where there are two class groups in each of fifth-year and sixth- year. These classes are mixed ability and are allocated five class periods per week, typically divided into one double period and three single periods. The teachers find this works well for their teaching of the subject.
The subject choice system is based on a two-step process. An initial ‘free choice’ by the students yields a series of choice boxes. History appears in two of these selection groups, enabling students to choose the subject at two different points. This allows for flexibility and high uptake in the subject. History teachers present material and speak to students about their subject in advance of subject choice taking place.
Rooms are allocated on a teacher basis in the school. This enables teachers to create subject bases in their rooms and to display teaching material relevant to their subjects in their classrooms. This system has been developing for some years and the teachers find it to be successful and helpful in organising and planning for their subjects.
There are further significant ways in which History is supported in the school. One example of this is the policy of recognising student achievement, and displaying work, awards and competition entries in cabinets and on boards in the public areas of the school. Thus the History department has been able to display award-winning work by students on both local and international History. These displays are updated and remain of interest to all who work in or visit the school. The provision of such facilities is appreciated by the History team.
There is a culture of planning in the school, and the History team has been afforded time and space to meet, discuss and plan work for their subject. This has resulted, in part, from the overall approach of the school to school development planning, which has been strongly focused on subject planning and development. Three planning meetings have taken place in recent months. Agenda, minutes and action plans are drawn up for each meeting, in which all History teachers participate. Excellent plans for syllabuses, modules, programmes and individual lessons have been drawn up as a result of these meetings, and teachers use folders of relevant information to plan and manage their classes. While these meetings have been of great benefit to the teaching and organisation of History, it is recommended that one meeting per year be dedicated to strategic planning for the subject, in the context not only of the subject itself but also in conjunction with overall school development planning.
Lesson plans were available for the classes inspected and showed a thoughtful and positive approach by all teachers. Materials, visual aids and students’ work were all included in these plans. There was evidence both in plans and in lessons that ICT was utilised in the preparation of materials for classes and in handouts and worksheets for students. The final step of introducing ICT into the lessons is hampered currently by relatively limited time availability in the two computer rooms, and by the arrival of broadband without sufficient data projectors and laptops to introduce computer-generated material into History classes. Maximum use is made of the time available in the computer rooms where students have compiled very interesting projects and presentations. Most of the History teachers have computer skills, or are improving them, and it will be a step forward in the delivery of the syllabus when they can put these skills to use in the classroom as a regular part of their teaching strategy and methodology.
Teachers of History have attended in-service courses. In recent months there has been good attendance at in-service sessions for the Leaving Certificate History syllabus. There is a tradition of continuous professional development in the school, and there has been a long association with the History Teachers’ Association of Ireland. This has included attendance at courses, presenting inservice, and in membership of committees. This is to be commended both as a good tradition and practice, and as a continuing means of developing the teaching and learning of the subject.
Lessons were well organised and delivered in rooms where History material was displayed prominently on the walls. This material was introduced into the lessons on several occasions. Typically, lessons started with a strong introduction, sometimes using ‘recap’ and question and answer methods. The topic was clear from the outset, and was reinforced by reference to information sheets, textbooks or illustrative material on display boards or overhead projector slides.
Students were involved in the lessons from the outset and responded well, particularly where questions and contributions were asked of individuals, usually by name. Where students offered correct information, they were affirmed, and where more information was required, other students were brought into the discussion until the matter was resolved. This was in evidence in almost all classes, and was particularly obvious in Leaving Certificate classes where students were actively engaged in the learning process at all times.
Information sheets and work sheets were in use, as well as maps and illustrations. These were used in conjunction with other methods, including the textbook and materials on the wall. It would have enhanced this process to have made enlarged maps. These could be available on OHP, posters, or board diagrams, to vary the focus for the students and to allow greater detail to be observed and understood.
In many lessons there was good use of key words written on the board: these are particularly effective if all students are required to write them into their notebooks before the end of the class. There was also excellent use of mixed media where, for example, cartoons, enlarged on OHP, were compared with textbook material, and information downloaded from History websites. Students are aware of websites and, in some instances, classes are taken into the computer room to research and work on projects or essays. In some lessons, students were very involved in the learning process throughout, whereas in other instances, it would benefit the pace of the lesson to introduce student-directed activities at strategic points.
Where group work was observed, it was well structured, positive, and encouraged all students to participate in the process. Groups worked together, delivered findings, and then reverted to individual seats for the next section of the lesson. All of this was built up through audio-visual methods and preparation for fieldwork, which was appropriate to the topics being covered. Very good preparation and participation were in evidence where this methodology was in use. This process, which has proved successful in some classes, could be incorporated into others to vary the pace and dynamic of lessons. Student-centred activities are ideal for introducing contrast into History lessons and are commended.
Cross-curricular work was also observed in some classes and it was clear that teachers with more than one subject allowed their expertise in other areas to feed into their History classes which is good practice. The use of video clips, as observed in class, is a good method in History teaching, especially if the clips are kept to a suitable length. It is important to time them carefully so that students have adequate opportunity to respond and to convey their impressions of the images seen.
There is an imaginative programme of visits and fieldwork in History, at home and abroad, and these enhance the learning process in many History topics. Presentations, projects and competitions are also key elements in the teaching and learning process in History in the school. Playing a central part in this process is the large and well-stocked school library, which contains a good selection of History books. Access to the internet through computers is available in a dedicated area. The students in the school are actively involved in the running of their library and this is to be applauded.
Throughout the lessons observed during the inspection, all students were unfailingly polite and hardworking, clearly responding to the positive educational environment. In all instances there was an atmosphere of mutual respect, which had been developed over time, and which is commendable. In several classes, an excellent and lively rapport had been built up between teacher and students, and this was both effective and beneficial in the teaching and learning process.
At all times, students are assessed both formally and informally. Questions and answer sessions, class tests, in-house examinations, projects and competitions all play their part in evaluation and assessment in History. Evidence can be seen on the classroom and corridor walls of the achievements and products of individual and group work in History in the school. There is a culture of celebration of student achievement in the school, and History plays no small part in this.
Written homework assignments and exercises are regularly set for all classes. Copybooks, folders and notebooks all bear testimony to the good written work completed by students, and are carefully monitored by teachers. Some instances of formative assessment in the correction of students’ work were observed and this is to be encouraged in all cases, as it assists in students developing their own work and understanding of the subject.
Test papers had also been well corrected and monitored, and students were aware of their progress in the subject. Written reports are sent to parents twice a year, following examinations. In-house examinations are held in February and May for the students in non-certificate examination years, and there are ‘mock’ examinations in February for those in third and sixth years.
Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each year group and information meetings for parents are also organised. Through these, parents are being drawn more into the subject selection process for senior cycle, which is a positive strategy.
It is clear from the high uptake in History at Leaving Certificate that the foundation in the subject is well laid at junior level and in the Transition Year. Students achieve a very good standard in this subject, due in equal measure to their enthusiasm, their dedicated work, and their teachers’ input and careful preparation. They are all, teachers and students, to be commended for the attainment of high standards in History.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and deputy principal and with the teachers of History at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The staff and Board of Management were very happy with the inspection and the 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
The recommendations were observed and will be incorporated into the teaching of History. In the area of ICT this will be determined by the availability of finance.