An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection in History
Enniscorthy Vocational College
Enniscorthy, County Wexford
Roll number: 71630K
Date of inspection: 8 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Enniscorthy Vocational 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 the 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.
The school makes good provision for History. In junior cycle, all students take History: class groups are streamed and have three class periods each per week. Numbers in the school have been varying in recent years. This is reflected in the numbers of class groups: three in first year, four in second year, and five in third year. Transition Year (TY), which is optional, has one class group. All students in TY take History, as part of Local Studies, and they are allocated two class periods per week.
In fifth and sixth years, there is one History class group in each year. These classes are mixed ability and have five class periods per week. There is also a small repeat Leaving Certificate History class, which has five periods per week.
Classrooms are mostly teacher-based, which allows teachers to build up resources and relevant displays of stimulus material in their subject. This was in evidence in the classrooms visited. Where teachers take two or more subjects, their rooms reflect the various subject interests and contribute to a cross-curricular educational environment.
There is a well-developed subject choice system in the school, with the guidance counsellor and deputy principal working alongside the students in third year to facilitate the greatest possible access to subjects of choice for the senior cycle. The initial phase is followed by the creation of a series of choice ‘blocks’ which are then offered to the students to make their final selection of subjects for their Leaving Certificate studies.
There has been a significant move forward in recent months in the provision of audio-visual equipment in classrooms. TV and DVD machines, financed by the parents’ association, have seen installed in many rooms. Internet broadband has been supplied to the school and is currently available through the ICT room. It is planned to extend broadband facilities to all rooms as soon as possible. The planned school extension will incorporate ICT facilities including broadband.
In the current school buildings there are approximately 200 computers, as there are many PLC classes, and many computers are also dedicated to use in LCA, LCVP and JCSP programmes. The school has disadvantaged status and offers all available programmes across the second level curriculum. Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) assist in many classes and other initiatives are in place to assist students before, during, and after school.
While there is a support system for students with special needs and those requiring learning support, the withdrawal from History of students who experience literacy difficulties may be counterproductive, given the amount of illustrative and graphic work in the Junior Certificate History syllabus. In many ways this syllabus can be used to assist students in building up their literacy skills, and the current practice in the school should be reviewed in this context.
The school at one time had a library, but this has been lost over the years with pressure for space requiring the library room to be used as a classroom. In the meantime, prior to the implementation of the planned building project, teachers are relying on their own resources and books to assist students. While this is laudable on the part of the teachers, it is recommended that, pending the restoration of library facilities, some interim arrangements for making books available to teachers and students should be made.
The History teachers, currently five in number, meet twice a year for planning purposes. The job of co-ordinator of History is a voluntary one, and rotates periodically. The team has produced good plans for teaching the History syllabus, and has developed a topic-by-topic progress plan for each year. Individual teachers also generate their own plans for lessons.
While co-operation and planning for History are good and up to date, there is a need for longer-term strategic planning for the subject in the school. This should be undertaken in a dedicated meeting at least once a year in order to review progress and plan for the future. It is also recommended that the History team should make an inventory of all resources available to History in the school. This is particularly important in the light of the syllabus and methodological developments currently taking place in the subject and of the planned extension to the school. The History team will need to be prepared to take maximum advantage of these developments and to ensure that they are suitably up-skilled as teachers to utilise the facilities and software available.
The History teachers are currently attending inservice courses for the new Leaving Certificate History syllabus. They have also attended other courses in the past. The Wexford Education Centre is adjacent to the school campus and use is being made of its facilities. The teachers should endeavour to avail of further CPD opportunities as and when they arise.
Currently the History teachers are not members of their subject association, though they express their intent to become involved in the near future. It is recommended that they derive full advantage from the association’s inservice courses, annual conference, publications, and events organised specifically for students.
The History teachers have organised field trips and outings for their students. These have included: the Dáil; the National Museum; the national heritage park, Wexford; and the 1798 centre in Enniscorthy. These activities are commended as strong co-curricular reinforcements for the History syllabus, and are to be encouraged for current and future planning in the subject.
Topics, in all lessons observed, were clearly introduced and explained. There was, in most lessons, a well-developed question and answer session to recap on previously-learned material or to introduce and build up the new topic. Questions were, for the most part, asked of named students or targeted generally at the class. The response from these sessions was used positively by teachers who wrote the key words or ideas on the board to build up the basis and structure of the topic.
Good use of the board was supplemented by careful integration of the text-book into some lessons, where appropriate. In some instances the illustrations and documentary material in the text-book were put to good use in defining and expanding the topic, without simply reading the book in class. This approach made the class livelier and encouraged questions and student interaction. Key-words were complemented on occasion by spider diagrams and maps.
The introduction of relevant contemporary parallels to underpin historical material was very well done, with students grasping the parallel and thus the original point. This worked particularly well where there were complicated concepts, names and political developments. It was clear from student responses that this method was effective and was used frequently to reinforce material in lessons. Another method which was used skilfully in some lessons was the introduction of empathy and the encouragement of students to realise and appreciate the position in which people found themselves in other places and times.
Differentiation in classes was good, with questions, vocabulary and lesson material being graduated according to ability and literacy level of students. Where stimulus and cross-curricular material from the walls and boards of classrooms were introduced into lessons, it was very effective and provided solid reinforcement of major points for students. Such methodology advanced student learning and understanding of topics and is to be commended.
While the approaches taken in the classes inspected were good, and effective, it would broaden the experience and imagination of the students if more use was made of audio-visual aids and ICT in the preparation and presentation lessons. It would not be wise to await the planned extension before introducing new methods and to broaden current methodologies in the teaching and learning of History.
In the lessons visited, the methodologies employed demonstrated that students can respond well when asked questions or encouraged to contribute to the class. It would be a logical and useful development of this to plan for more student-centred activity and learning in the class. Pair or group work, role-play, and student-initiated discussion are well-proven methods in the teaching and learning of History. It is recommended that teachers introduce more of this methodology into their classes. The inclusion of this strategy will vary the pace and focus of lessons, and will encourage students to contribute in a meaningful way to the topic being taught.
Regular written homework assignments are set for students in the classes inspected. They complete the work which is then monitored and assessed by their teachers. In some instances, students’ work was well annotated, with helpful and positive suggestions for expansion or improvement made by the teacher. In other cases, greater attention to assessment, grading and positive comments would be beneficial to students and their progress in the subject. Essays and notes produced by senior cycle students were promising, and continued monitoring and encouragement are advised, particularly where students are preparing for state examinations.
Tests are set, usually after the completion of topics, and there are in-house examinations at Christmas and summer for non-certificate classes. Third-year and sixth-year students have examinations at Christmas and sit ‘mock’ examinations in the spring term. Written reports are sent home at Christmas and summer, and in the case of certificate examination years, at Christmas and Easter.
There is an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year in the school, and further meetings with parents are arranged as required or requested. Information meetings are organised for parents, particularly with regard to subject choice for senior cycle and information concerning the Transition Year programme.
Much attention and care are given to ensuring that students study and take examinations in History at the level best suited to their abilities, performance and potential. Attainment levels in History are in line with expectations of students and teachers.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
· History is well provided for in the school, with all students taking the subject in junior cycle, adequate time allocated to all classes, and teacher-based rooms provided for most teachers of this subject.
· An open choice system, through which students can maximise their selection of subjects for the Leaving Certificate, yields a viable class each year in fifth year and sixth year.
· History teachers meet as a group, plan for their subject and produce useful and informative planning documents which cover the present but need to be extended to plan for the future.
· History teachers have attended inservice courses in History, but should consider becoming involved with their subject association and in seeking further CPD opportunities.
· Lessons are well prepared and employ varied methodologies; greater use of audio-visual and ICT equipment would further enhance teaching and learning in the classes.
· There is good rapport and mutual respect in classes and good progress with the syllabus was evident in all programmes inspected.
· Homework assignments are set regularly and are generally well monitored and annotated, but greater use of formative assessment would increase the impact and value of the work for students.
· There is good communication with parents and guardians.
· Provision for students with special educational needs or requiring learning support is positive, but the practice of withdrawing students from History for this support should be reviewed.
· Students’ outcomes and levels of attainment in History are good and are commensurate with their abilities and performance.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
· The History team should spend one meeting per year on strategic forward planning for their subject: they should also make an inventory of all History resources available in the school.
· The introduction of more student-centred activities, greater use of the available audio-visual aids and the expansion and employment of ICT in the classroom should be planned for and implemented in the teaching and learning of History.
· The school library is a vital resource for History, and it is important that library facilities be restored as soon as possible.
· It is important that teachers of History promote and advance their subject at every opportunity, and not await the completion of the school extension before doing this.
· Teachers should continue to seek out and pursue further CPD opportunities.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the principal and the teachers of History at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.