An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Avondale Community College
Rathdrum, County Wicklow
Roll number: 70810H
Date of inspection: 3 April 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Avondale Community 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 teacher. 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.
Avondale Community College, currently undergoing a re-building project, is operating in difficult circumstances with most classes taking place in temporary buildings. History lessons all take place in the one temporary building and are planned to move to the new premises in late 2006.
History is reasonably well provided for in the school, given the restrictions on curricular subjects and options offered to students. There is management support for History and the efforts and achievements of the History department are appreciated and affirmed by senior management.
History is an optional subject in junior cycle and is chosen by just over one-third of each year group. There is one class group in first year, one in second year and two in third year. Years one and two are mixed ability classes while third-year classes are streamed. Apart from the Humanities class which students all take in Transition Year, this means that two thirds of the students never take History as a subject in their second-level education. While the options present certain difficulties at present in junior cycle, it is recommended that this system be re-visited to allow students wider access to History in the future.
In Transition Year, there is currently a Humanities programme, including History, which has four class groups, each of which is allocated two class periods per week. The History teacher and the Humanities teacher collaborate on planning and subject material for the Humanities module.
There is an open system of subject choice for students entering fifth year, comprising meetings and consultations with teachers and guidance counsellor. The choice grids filled in by students are analysed three ways before final choice groups are formed. Most students gain their favoured subjects by this system. There is at present one fifth-year History class, of mixed ability, which is allocated six class periods per week. This year, only one student opted to study History in sixth year and classes are arranged in the teacher’s non-timetabled periods where they coincide with the student’s available class times.
The History room acts as a class base and a resource centre for the subject. As such, it is well organised and provides a solid base for students of the subject. It is equipped with television monitor, DVD/Video player and adequate cupboards and shelving.
There has not, for some time, been a library in the school, but one is planned for the new building. Similarly, although broadband has been supplied to the school, there is at present only one, temporary, computer room, and it is expected that broadband will be made available to rooms in the new building when the project reaches completion. The computer room is available to History classes on a planned and negotiated basis at present.
Planning for History in the school is thorough, and includes overall subject planning and detailed programmes and plans for individual courses and years included in the planning document. While there is good syllabus planning and detailed topic targets included in the document, there is room for a serious and well-thought out strategy for the future of History in the school. With numbers varying from year to year, History offered only as a choice subject in junior cycle, and with very uneven uptake in recent years in senior cycle, there is a clear need for a strategic plan for the subject. This needs to be carried out in conjunction with other subject areas, with overall school development planning and with school management.
Undoubtedly a great commitment to and love for the subject exists in the school. Students work well and with interest in History. This enthusiasm needs to be harnessed in any future plans for the subject. Plans for greater accessibility and broader options, as well as a specific input into Transition Year should be considered.
It is good to note that there is a weekly booking in the computer room for senior History students. This clearly assists them in their research and in the development of the many aspects of this subject. ICT is used by both teacher and students in preparation of History material. This is commended as a positive way to prepare and plan for History, and its further use is to be encouraged. Much software has been provided by the inservice team in History and this is a valuable aid to classroom work and student research. Expanded use of this material is recommended for the future planning and work in History in the school.
While there has been a great deal of thought, imagination and effort put into the planning for the subject, it would be a positive move to put all this material on computer, where it could be readily accessed, and frequently amended and upgraded. This would also create a permanent record and ideas bank for the future in History, especially as sources from the HIST website can be imported into the system. Such computerised planning should also include an inventory of History materials and resources held or stored in the school.
There is evidence of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) among the staff in the school and this applies equally to History. There has been good attendance at the inservice provided for the new History syllabus, and there is contact and communication with the subject association. Apart from this, there is evidence of regular contact with other History teachers. This is a valuable resource to build on, and should assist in creating the future plans for History in the school.
Good preparation of information and materials for classes was reflected in well-organised and attentive students who listened carefully to definition and explanation as new topics were being introduced. Where revision was the centre of attention, the topics were clearly announced and the students were able to grasp the central theme of the lesson very quickly.
Use of the text-book, hand-outs, work-sheets and question and answer sessions were well balanced throughout the classes inspected. Major personalities, events, and movements were made clear by reference to modern parallels, geographical locations and school visits. Students were affirmed in their contributions in class and material was reinforced by asking students a mixture of general and higher order questions. Students were called by name and the majority of questions were asked of named individuals, which is good practice. This contributed to the relaxed and positive learning atmosphere in the classroom.
While students appeared clear in what they were doing, it would have been helpful if the topic title and major key words and issues could have been written on the board as the lesson progressed. Students should then have written down this information in their notebooks to add clarity to the material for revision. Students were willing to participate and respond in class, and it would have been a positive development if more student-centred learning and activities had been interspersed with other methods used in lessons. This would have varied the pace of classes and changed the class dynamic so that not all the input was coming from the teacher. In general, methodologies employed in History classes are successful and varied, but could benefit from more frequent inputs of student-centred work, for example paired and group work, and increasing use of ICT applications across all the programmes.
There were good historical materials on display in the classroom, including up-to-date publications and illustrative charts and maps. It would have augmented this material if a large-scale map could have been produced and used in class to assist in locating major centres referred to in the lessons.
Much enthusiasm was in evidence in the classes visited, and it was clear that students were enjoying their History, contributing well and carrying out research where appropriate. They were articulate in their contributions and well able to maintain a discussion on the topic being taught or revised. This is to be commended.
Written homework is set regularly for History classes and the copies and notebooks reflect good work in progress. All homework assignments are well monitored and often clearly annotated, with helpful comments added. Greater use of formative assessment would expand the developmental aspects of the students’ work. Regular, usually monthly, class tests take place and there are in-house examinations twice a year, at Christmas and in summer. Certificate classes have ‘mock’ examinations in the spring term. Written reports are sent home to parents twice a year.
There is good provision made for parent-teacher contact. There is an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year group in the school, with two such meetings being organised for third and sixth years. This is commended.
Good and comprehensive records are kept of students’ achievement in the subject. Projects are well monitored and are sometimes on display in the room, which is effectively a History classroom. Research for the Leaving Certificate research study is well organised and monitored, with each individual attempting their own topic and locating their own sources. This is as intended in the new syllabus and is to be commended.
Students have good attainment levels in History and usually justify their abilities, work and commitment in both school and state assessments in the subject. There is evidence of teacher commitment to students’ progress and this is to be applauded.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· History is reasonably well provided for in the school, given the current physical restrictions and the limitations placed on curriculum and student choices.
· Time allocation to History is good, and the existence of a teacher-based History room is to be commended.
· Great efforts are made to compensate for the current lack of a library, for instance by supplying History students with personally-owned books to augment those still remaining from the old library.
· Very good forward planning and lesson construction were in evidence: further thought will need to be given to the future strategic development of History in the school, at all levels.
· While only a limited number of students select History for junior cycle, they are well taught and well-motivated. Their levels and outcomes in History by third year are good and reflect good commitment and guidance through their History course.
· While there is no History as such in Transition Year, the work and input in the Humanities programme in that year continue to encourage student interest and achievement in aspects of History.
· The guidance department is instrumental in providing a well-managed choice system for students entering senior cycle: the templates in use help most students to receive their preferred subjects.
· There is a good uptake currently in fifth year, following some years of uneven numbers in senior cycle. Interest in History for the forthcoming years appears good, and support from staff and management have assisted in this.
· There is good use of methodologies in the teaching of History, although the development and use of ICT has been delayed by various factors. It is recommended that this area be developed as the new buildings are completed and facilities installed in classrooms.
· A print-rich environment exists for the History students, and assistance is given in accessing sources for study of the subject. Considerable teacher-initiated support is provided for students in senior cycle, and this is to be commended.
· Written homework is set regularly for History students and it is well monitored and annotated. Results and progress records are kept carefully.
· In-house examinations, augmented by class tests, ensure that students’ work is regularly assessed. Attainment levels in History are good.
· Parents are sent written reports and are invited to parent teacher meetings at least once per year, and twice in some instances. This is to be commended.
· There is evidence of good project work, co-curricular activities and History visits. This is good practice
· There is good continuous professional development in the History department; inservice sessions are attended and there is good contact with the subject association. This is to be commended and further encouraged for the future.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is important for the future of History in the school that the initial choice system, especially for junior cycle, is kept under constant review,
· The arrival of ICT equipment is a promising development, but it is essential that its use extends to classes and preparation in History.
· Planning in History is good in the short and medium term, but future strategic planning for History is essential to ensure its future development in the school.
· Teaching methodology in History, while generally good, and varied, needs greater emphasis on student-centred learning and activity, clear indication on the board of topic and key words which should be recorded by students, and greater use of audio-visual and ICT resources.
· Further development of formative assessment techniques in the monitoring and correction of students’ homework assignments is recommended.
· The opportunities provided by the new school extension should include restored library facilities and access to ICT for students of History.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teacher 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.