An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Classical Studies
Wilsonís Hospital School
Multyfarnham, County Westmeath
Roll number: 63300Q
Date of inspection: 18 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Subject inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Wilsonís Hospital School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Classical Studies 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 the teacher, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacherís written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher. †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.
Wilsonís Hospital School introduced Classical Studies to the curriculum three years ago and students will take the Junior Certificate (JC) and Leaving Certificate (LC) examinations for the first time in 2007. The school provides the subject on a limited basis in the JC and LC programmes. In the junior cycle, it is offered in a rotating three-year cycle of options with Home Economics and Technical Graphics, so that there is just one junior cycle class at present. In the LC, the subject is set against Irish for students who have exemptions. Classical Studies is offered to all three groups of Transition Year (TY) students on a rotating basis and this is commended. However, the current cohort of TY students will not be able to choose the subject for the Leaving Certificate since, at present, the subject is rotated and the next group likely to be offered the subject in this programme is the current cohort of third year students. In the 2006-7 academic year, there is just one Leaving Certificate class. While it is laudable that the school has enriched its curricular provision with Classical Studies, the cyclical nature of this provision means that there is no natural progression for the present Transition Year group next year. Moreover, current curricular provision in both the junior and senior cycle militates against an incremental development of teaching expertise that is grounded in empirical classroom experience. It is reported that the reason for the unusual provision is staff deployment. Approximately half of this yearís Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate students are expected to take the higher level and this is below national norms. The uptake of higher level is projected to be greater among girls than boys. Some of the international students have language difficulties. The school is advised to review its subject options to ensure that Classical Studies meets the educational needs of the students to whom it is currently being offered. State examination outcomes could be factored into the review when these become available.†
Classical Studies is taught in a mixed-ability setting and there is a considerable range in the classes. Timetabling allocation is good in sixth year with six separate periods per week. There are four periods in third year and this is adequate. One double period in Transition Year for a ten-week module is sufficient to provide a brief introduction to the subject.
There is good access to a range of audio-visual equipment including an overhead projector. A budget is available for equipment and materials. The classroom in which the subject is taught is poorly adapted to its purpose. It is small and in poor condition. At the time of the evaluation, lighting conditions were less than ideal. While it is acknowledged that student numbers in most of the class groups are small, Transition Year groups have approximately twenty-five students in each and therefore movement in the classroom is very restricted. Classical Studies is a resource intensive subject and more storage space is required in addition to the cupboard currently in the classroom. It is reported that there is pressure on existing classroom accommodation and, in fact, the school is at an advanced stage in it application for a new extension. This could provide an opportunity to allocate a more appropriate classroom to the teaching of the subject. In the short term, the room requires some adjustments and maintenance. It is laudable that the Classical Studies teacher uses the classroom space as an additional teaching resource and has enhanced the walls with attractive posters. Teaching aids such as a model of a Roman house were on display. The school has a library but it is regularly in use for classes. However the Classical Studies teacher has begun to build up a bank of resources. The Classical Studies classroom has a computer with internet access and a printer and there is access to a data projector. The provision of information and communication technology is highly commended.† The school facilitates students by providing an ordering service. It is reported that delays have been experienced and this is a matter that should be reviewed.
Long- and short-term planning reveal an awareness of syllabus requirements. However, there is scope for further development and the need for this is all the more compelling given that the subject is provided on an intermittent basis. The pace of syllabus delivery is currently too slow and requires review as a matter of urgency to ensure that all topics are completed in good time for mock and state examinations. It is recommended that a timeframe for each topic be planned, documented and implemented to allow also for a period of revision. In addition to an outline of schemes of work for each year group, it is advisable to place a strong focus on learning outcomes and key skills. Given that there is a considerable range of ability in the classes taught, strategies for differentiation both in teaching methodologies and assessment should be documented in the plan. A list of the departmentís resources should be included, in addition to syllabus and guideline documents, chief examinersí reports, circulars and other relevant Department of Education and Science material. It would also be helpful to list the range of co- and extra-curricular activities and outings that support the teaching and learning of the subject. Since students are likely to amass a large body of supportive material in the form of notes, handouts and homework assignments, a policy on the management of folders should be written into the plan and implemented. Review should be factored into planning for the subject.
The Transition Year module was of particular interest and allows for a wide variety of cross curricular approaches and these could be investigated further. There was evidence of careful planning for resources in the lessons visited. Handouts, including visual material, were prepared in advance and a classroom model was also made available to students. The quality of the transparencies used on the overhead projector was poor and this is an area for development.† Good quality slides projected by means of a digital data projector had been prepared for a presentation and this is highly commended.† †
The content of the lessons visited was appropriate to the syllabus and to the principles of the Transition Year. Question strategy was carefully considered and care was taken to ensure that all students were included. Individuals were monitored and this is of particular importance where students whose first language is not English may be challenged by subject-specific terminology or nomenclature. To reinforce information, students were instructed to underline key points in a written text and to identify important structures on a plan or map. Of note was the range of questioning strategies that tested and developed higher-order thinking.
Student questioning, whether seeking clarification, or in the context of discussion or speculation, was welcomed and encouraged and this is commended. Oral contributions of the majority of students were thoughtful and interactions with the teacher indicated a good level of engagement and interest. Student folders showed that a good range of work had been done. There was evidence of an imaginative approach to homework assignments set in class.
In a lesson visited, there was considerable emphasis on note taking. While this activity is useful for developing writing skills, particularly of those students whose first language is not English, extensive use is time-consuming and the distribution of prepared notes, preferably typed, should be considered as an alternative.† A history text was central to one senior cycle lesson and the subject matter engaged the interest of students. However, selective reading should be prioritised so that class time is spent productively in discussion and evaluation of material read at home. In an archaeology lesson, a task involved students in the selection and analysis of information in order to marshal their arguments in favour of a particular point of view. This represents very good practice and could be a model for the study of other texts.††
Opportunities were created for students to engage in independent writing tasks and this allowed the teacher to circulate and monitor individuals and offer assistance where necessary. This is very helpful in class groups, given the profile of students studying this subject. However, the confined classroom space did not easily facilitate such teacher movement nor, indeed, is it likely to facilitate active learning strategies, such as group work, that would require student movement.
Since higher- and ordinary-level students are taught in the same group, and since some experience language difficulties, differentiation in terms of tasks should be clearly factored into all lessons, for example through worksheets and writing frames.
The lessons visited were conducted in a lively, enthusiastic and supportive atmosphere. There was evidence of a warm rapport between the teacher and students and independent thinking is encouraged.
Assignments are set and corrected and records are kept. In TY, assessment is varied and this is commended. Continuous assessment is used so that over the ten-week module, students produce eight assignments on a variety of themes. Projects are also assessed and an aggregate of the marks for assignments and the project provides a good record of studentsí work and effort. Formative assessment is practised in the giving of oral feedback to students. The LC syllabus requires the reading of a large number of texts. Much of this could be set in the form of independent research, group or individual projects and homework assignments that can be assessed through cloze tests, questionnaires, and quizzes. There was no clear practice on differentiation and this should be factored into all aspects of assessment.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
Whole-school support for the subject is good for the most part and access to ICT is good.
Planning is conscientious.
There is a very good level of student engagement and lessons are taught in a lively and enthusiastic atmosphere.
There is an imaginative approach to methodologies and resources.
Higher order thinking skills are developed
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
The pacing of syllabus delivery in both the Junior and Leaving Certificate programmes is currently too slow and must be reviewed.
The rationale for the provision of the subject should be evaluated and its effectiveness reviewed.
The standard of classroom accommodation should be improved as resources permit.
Differentiation should be factored into all aspects of the teaching and learning of the subject.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher of Classical Studies and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when 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 school is pleased that the teaching of the subject earns praise for the teacherís enthusiasm and for the classes responses.† We are also pleased that the use of IT in the classroom is commended.† We do not have the teaching resources to extend further the provision of the subject. Books may be borrowed from the school library.
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 school continues to press the Department of Education & Science Building Unit for a much needed extension.† The room where the subject is taught is part of the residential area (formally a common room) which has been forced into use as a classroom.† It cannot be altered in its dimensions as it is subject to a preservation order (built in 1761).