An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Saint Mary’s C.B.S.
Millpark Road, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford
Roll number: 63560T
Date of inspection: 7 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in History in St Mary’s CBS, Enniscorthy. 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 the subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
History is generally well provided for and supported in the school. There is quite a large team of History teachers, most of whom are History specialists or who have History as a specialism in their degree. All classes, from junior cycle to senior cycle, are mixed ability, with the majority of students in both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate attempting higher level in the subject. Students are encouraged to take the level most appropriate to their abilities, which is good practice.
Time allocation for History is good in senior cycle, where the Leaving Certificate classes in both fifth and sixth years are given five class periods per week, some of them as double periods. Transition Year (TY), which is an optional programme is taken by about one third of the students, all of whom are required to take History. The course in History is allocated two class periods per week, and spans the full year. In junior cycle, however, there is a less ideal situation where first year and third year classes have only two class periods per week, while second year has three periods. This is less than the recommended time allocation for History in junior cycle, and is reported by teachers to make it very difficult to complete the syllabus in the time available. It is recommended that the time provision in first and third year be reviewed.
Classrooms are distributed in three different ways, with some being class-based, others teacher-based, and one subject-based. The school is currently going through a transitional phase in terms of buildings and accommodation, and these arrangements may change. While this is a temporary situation, the arrangements appear to work well, although issues around equipment, resources and movement of materials will have to be resolved as soon as possible.
The school library is currently arranged by subject category. Its provision for History is good, with the book collection being currently accommodated in the present History room. There is a good variety of books, documents and resources in the ‘History’ room, and, while it suffices for the present, as it grows it will obviously require a separate room or a redevelopment of a library as such. For the present, it is a good resource and is well used in the preparation and teaching of History.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is being developed in the school but is at a relatively early stage, centred on an ICT room, where internet broadband is available. It is planned to expand this availability to other rooms. This expansion will greatly benefit History when it occurs, but for the present access to ICT is fairly limited as regards History. Teachers are, however, taking courses in ICT and the school encourages Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for teachers in many areas. This is to be applauded and encouraged.
There is a good homework policy in place in the school which applies to all subject areas. The History teachers apply this policy in their department.
Students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) are well supported in the school. All teachers in their subject areas collaborate in assisting students with Individual Educational Programmes (IEPs), and this is handled as a whole-school matter, which is to be commended.
The subject choice process for students is well coordinated, involving information for students and parents, with management, guidance and subject teachers all playing their part. There is an information night for parents after which students discuss their options and their views create the choice blocks for each year depending on the overall requirements. The great majority of students are reported to receive their preferred subjects. Uptake in History is good, sufficient to create a good-sized mixed ability class in History each year. The numbers are currently on the increase which pleases the History team and augurs well for future years.
The History teachers meet three times a year for subject planning meetings, and there is a coordinator for the subject. Documents recording matters discussed at these meetings concentrate very much on day-to-day management of the subject. Matters such as text-books, in-house examinations, outings and subject choice are dealt with. While this is good, and necessary, it would be very beneficial for the History department and the subject as a whole if more attention could be paid to future plans, including a strategic plan for History for the medium to long-term. These plans should also be recorded, and reviewed each year. It is recommended that one planning meeting each year be dedicated to this.
The business of the planning meetings is written down and recorded, with ideas for the next meeting identified for action. This record is then transferred electronically in pdf format to an in-house school website as part of the planning process. This is to be commended as good practice. It is recommended that the role of History coordinator be rotated every year or two, in order that the workload be shared and that each person on the team get the opportunity to lead the team’s ideas and plans.
Teachers prepared well for their classes and there was evidence of good material being prepared in advance. Good use was being made of resources, and worksheets, handouts, overhead projector (OHP) transparencies, information sheets and other handouts were well put together for distribution and use in the History lessons at all levels. It would be a further practical step for much of this material to be created, stored and used through ICT means, as it is permanent, amendable, and easy and efficient to produce multiple copies for classes. ICT is clearly the way forward: teachers who have been attending ICT courses and those who have ICT skills should begin to plan positively in this direction, as it will greatly enhance the preparation, teaching and learning of History in the school. Moves forward in this area are to be commended, and progress with ICT should be a priority on the agenda for future History department meetings.
The preparation of materials for classes should also include the use of stimulus materials, which can be placed on the boards or walls of classrooms, even as a temporary measure, so that students can be directed to these resources during lessons. These resources would include maps, charts, posters, pictures of relevance to the topic being prepared. While classrooms are assigned in different ways, this can be difficult, but all opportunities should be taken to press forward with these means of enhancing learning opportunities in the classroom.
While material had clearly been prepared with care for several classes, and had worked well, this process should be extended to preparation for History in all classes, and should be recorded and stored for ease of access. Much of the material obtained from the HIST inservice presentation is excellent and ideally prepared for use in class, and all teachers attending these courses are in possession of the materials in booklet, CD-ROM or DVD format. These opportunities should be utilised and exploited to the full, not just in senior cycle classes, but throughout the teaching of History in the school.
Classroom management was good in all classes inspected, and there was a good, collaborative atmosphere, reflecting mutual respect between students and teachers and among students themselves. The learning environment was good, lessons progressed well and students cooperated well in the work of the topic being taught. The physical environment is good and improving, with classrooms being updated in some instances, and more equipment becoming available for use in the teaching and learning process. There was good space, and relevant material in most rooms, with equipment levels varying from classroom to classroom. The ongoing development of ICT should enhance the teaching and learning environment further, and its expansion is to be encouraged.
In most lessons, the use of a wide variety of teaching methods was demonstrated and most started with question and answer sessions. These were generally good, and were effective in linking recap of the previous lesson to the commencement of the new one. It would be better, if the variety of questions could be expanded to include more contrast between simple factual queries and a series of higher order questions, all of which should be directed at students by name, if possible. Open and rhetorical questions tend not to be as effective in a History lesson. Lessons progressed through a variety of modes, including overhead projector (OHP) transparencies, video clips, use of text book, handouts and worksheets. Students were seen to cooperate with these methods which maintained their level of interest and engagement in the topics being taught.
Illustrations were in evidence in most classes inspected, as were interesting uses of parallels involving other topics studied (in both History and other subjects), modern films, videos or DVDs, radio programmes and contemporary quotations. This use of cross-curricular and co-curricular material is good practice and was seen in several classes.
Diagrams were effective in some instances and helped to reinforce the material and to help students understand connections between events and causative factors. It would enhance this process further, if all topics could be written clearly on the board (or OHP or other means) at the commencement of lessons, and key words and ideas recorded as the lesson progresses. At the conclusion of the lesson, students should be given sufficient time to write this important information into their notebooks or copies, to reinforce their learning and as an aid to later revision.
There was an appropriate pace in most lessons observed, and the class dynamic was good. This could be further improved by the introduction of more student-directed learning or student-led activities. This could be as simple as students working on specific tasks in pairs or small groups, or using role-play to act out difficult concepts in the syllabus. However, the importance of different sides to various events and stories was stressed well in classes, and students were in some instances encouraged to give a point of view. Their ability to give feedback in discursive topics was very good, and this aspect should be encouraged.
The school organises outings and visits, and there have been regular History trips to places of interest. One such visit is currently being organised, and this is to be commended. Both teachers and management agreed that visits reinforced interest and work in History, and this encourages organisation of further historical outings. There are many valuable and interesting sites available in the county and several of these have already been visited. While the locations and sites might be extended further afield, the use of outings is a most positive aspect of History teaching in the school.
In some lessons, there was perhaps too much reliance on the textbook, and this is where the greater active involvement of students in the lessons should be encouraged, especially as the textbooks have good suggestions for such activities in class. There were other instances where note-giving and dictation were prominent as teaching methods. These should be developed and delivered by other means, if possible, whether by OHP transparencies, interaction via the board or by ICT methodology. Variety is vitally important in delivering often complex issues and encouraging students to take an active part in the learning process.
Nonetheless, the delivery of the syllabus is well advanced in both junior and senior cycles, and students are coping well with the courses in both Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate. The time constraints make it difficult to complete the syllabus in the circumstances but teachers and classes are doing very well in keeping up with their progress plan for the year. This also means that the outings referred to above can only happen at certain times and for certain classes, which is a handicap. All of these elements should be considered when reviewing the timetable with regard to History.
Students apply themselves well to their study of History and their achievements at test and examinations time bear witness to this, a point which is to be commended.
Homework is set regularly for classes, in both written and learning formats. The students’ copies and notebooks are well kept and up to date, and are well monitored by the teachers. In some instances this monitoring amounted to simple ticks and initials, but in other examples constructive remarks and helpful direction was given in the margins or at the end. This use of formative assessment methods, where students are encouraged to develop their own work is to be commended and should be developed across the homework of all classes. In the other instances, more active monitoring of homework is advised, involving students as much as possible in their own work and progress, even where simple short-question type work is set.
It would also be a positive development if more student work could be displayed on boards in the classrooms. This is particularly true where students have undertaken good research or have completed well thought out and presented projects. Display of this work will reinforce students’ satisfaction in their presentations as well providing exemplars and information sources for the whole class. It is understood that second year tends to be the only class in which such projects are usually undertaken, but ‘mini-projects’ could be completed, even in the time available, with first and third years. Students could also create displays without having to undertake full projects, thus assisting their class in the learning process.
Tests take place regularly, usually at the end of topics, and a record is kept of grades in the teachers’ class progress books. These are used particularly when teachers meet parents in the annual parent-teacher meetings. There is one such meeting for each year group.
Examinations are held twice a year for non-state examination classes, and ‘mock’ examinations are organised for students preparing for the Junior and Leaving Certificate. Written reports are sent home to parents twice every school year.
The following are the main strengths 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 teachers of History and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.