An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Holy Child Secondary School
Military Road, Killiney, Co Dublin
Roll number: 60250M
Date of inspection: 1 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in History in Holy Child Secondary School, Killiney. 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 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 well supported and provided for in the school. There is very good provision of time on the timetable for all years, particularly the four class periods a week in second and third years. All classes are mixed ability, from first year to sixth year, and the majority of students take History at higher level in Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate. All students are encouraged to take the subject to the highest level appropriate to their abilities, which is most supportive and in line with best practice. The spread of classes across the days of the week could be a little better; for example, there tends to be a gap in fifth and sixth year History classes between Thursday afternoon and the following Tuesday. This should be revisited with a view to spreading the class periods more evenly across the week. The provision of double periods for Leaving Certificate History occurs when the subject is timetabled against, for example, practical subjects.
Uptake in the subject at Transition Year (TY), where it is optional, is reasonable but not optimal. The uptake for the Leaving Certificate is good, though obviously influenced by the numbers opting for History when in their third year. It would be advisable to look again at the options for TY and the numbers of students choosing History at that stage, as this has ramifications for the Leaving Certificate in the subject. Currently the number taking History is high, but that might not always be the case within the present subject choice system prevailing in third/fourth/fifth year.
Students’ choices for their Leaving Certificate subjects are effectively made in third year, and can be changed after that, but the outcome is a little inflexible. Despite this, it is reported that almost all students receive the subjects of their choice for their senior cycle in the school. Very few change after fourth (transition) year. However, this is not in line with the philosophy or best practice for Transition Year. Ideally, students’ choices for their Leaving Certificate should be made at the end of Transition Year for those taking that option, and not taken at the end of their third year. The system for choosing subjects is good, though a little limited because of the numbers in the school and the choice being consequently reduced. Students are well advised on subject choice, as are their parents, and their preferences influence the final option blocks established for selection of subjects.
There is an excellent library in the school, with an up-to-date History section. Students and teachers are assisted in selecting books and materials for research and for use in class. This is excellent practice and is to be commended. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is basically well provided for in the school, albeit with technical difficulties. Currently, students are brought to the computer room, on a pre-booked basis, to work on computers for History. There are data projectors, as yet few in number, and mostly portable, but it is planned to expand this facility. History teachers are thus enabled to use ICT in some classrooms as well as in the computer room. This is an area for ongoing development.
Rooms in the school are class-based, so that teachers have to move from room to room to teach during the day. This works quite well except where students, having their classroom base in one room, tend to have all their belongings in that area. This can make rooms cluttered and less than ideal as a teaching and learning environment. While it is accepted that the building contains a maze of corridors and stairs and therefore impractical for students to move with their equipment all the time, a solution should be found to storage and movement of books and belongings. At the same time, there is ownership of rooms in the sense that many posters, educationally valuable display material, maps and notices adorn the walls of the classrooms. This stimulus material is of value to teachers and students, and was observed in use in classes inspected. It was noted that much of this material is of relevance to History which is to be applauded.
Teachers are encouraged to pursue Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and have attended inservice courses for the current Leaving Certificate syllabus. They have found these courses valuable from the point of view of information, material, and meeting other teachers of their subject. They also attend ICT courses in their local education centre, which are also proving valuable. They belong to their subject association and attend their meetings and courses when possible. The school pays for courses, and for membership of the association, which is a significant support for the subject and the teachers, and is to be commended as very good practice.
There is good and frequent contact with parents through meetings, grade sheets, and reports. There is one parent-teacher meeting annually for each year group.
While there is no specific budget allocated to History, requests for funds to purchase materials or equipment for the subject are available by application to, and negotiation with, the principal.
Time is provided for the History teachers to meet to plan for their subject in terms of materials, assessment, the year’s plans, students’ progress and the discussion or relevant issues regarding History. The meetings are reported to be entirely informal, with no formal times laid down, and no formal records of meetings. There is no coordinator for the subject, a point which should be considered in the near future. On the other hand, the History teachers have developed and produced very good and thorough planning documents, which cover many areas of preparation, syllabus, teaching, learning and assessment. Notes were prepared from a review during the last year and these are very helpful. It is clear, therefore that planning for the subject takes place, and produces written documents from which to work for the next year. It would, however, be advisable if this process were to be placed on a more formal footing, with recorded agenda, minutes and action plans from the meetings. These should be recorded electronically, if possible, to create an ongoing record from which to develop.
In addition to this, it is recommended that the History teachers discuss and put together a strategic plan for their subject, taking into account the current place of History in the school, and the future for the subject. Much has changed and is changing in the History curriculum, and it is advisable to plan for the future with this in mind, considering how to provide for and develop interest in the subject in the coming years.
In regard to the transition from junior cycle to senior cycle, there are good topics set down for study in the Transition Year. These could be developed further to reflect current world events, for example, which would add variety and help to keep the focus of History away from prescribed Leaving Certificate topics, which should only be undertaken in the fifth and sixth years.
There is good preparation of materials for lessons, including worksheets, information pages, diagrams, maps and documents. This is to be commended. Preparation was also in evidence for History outings and visits which take place regularly and have been found to be very worthwhile. Up-to-date materials on the walls of the classrooms are good, and development of this practice is to be encouraged further. The library, which is a great resource, is also used in the planning and preparation process for the teaching of classes and in researching History topics. Documents are sourced for work in Leaving Certificate topics and this practice should be expanded, and perhaps linked in the near future to ICT applications for use in the classroom or the computer room.
Teachers have skills in ICT and audio-visuals, and prepare some materials (and their planning document) in this way: there is great scope for extending this practice, and its potential should be fully exploited in the future.
Another aspect of planning and preparation is, of course, the attendance at, and assistance received from the History Inservice Team (HIST) at their courses; History teachers from the school have attended all seven sessions to date and this is to be applauded. They are aware of the great resource provided by the HIST website, and further use of this material, and its valuable links, should be expanded in the preparation of material for teaching and learning History in the school.
All classes inspected were well managed, orderly and hard-working. Lessons started promptly and were introduced either by roll-call, prayer, or the reference to homework just completed. In some cases, the topic and key words for the lesson were written on the board. This should be the case for all lessons, so that the students always have a focus for their study and are aware how the topic develops. Students should always be allowed time to write the topic and the key words or statements into their notebooks before the end of the class as an aide-memoire and a good means of developing notes on each topic on their course.
Almost all lessons developed by means of question and answer sessions. These were very well managed, with all questions directed at students by name, and differentiated by means of asking lower and higher-order questions as appropriate. This allowed all students in the mixed-ability classes to respond and to have confidence in their learning. In all cases where questions were asked, positive answers were affirmed and reinforced. They were generally also built on as the lesson progressed. Incomplete answers were developed by continuing the theme to another student and bringing the whole class into the process. This is very good practice. One aspect of questioning might be profitably developed in History lessons - the use of the question ‘why ?’, which often makes students think more deeply or precisely about the topic. This process is particularly of relevance in the Leaving Certificate course.
The text book was used judiciously in lessons inspected, being referred to as and when necessary, and not becoming the main focus of the class. This worked well, especially as material was extrapolated from books and information sheets to develop the theme further. Students were required to justify points raised, to explain the rationale behind developments, and to link ideas together during lessons, which is commendable. The frequent use of modern parallels and examples from other subjects reinforced the students’ learning and proved the value of introducing cross-curricular themes and information in to History lessons. This worked well at both junior and senior cycle, and is to be applauded as good practice.
Some of the students were preparing for examinations or tests, and there was good use of past papers and revision materials in those classes. Students were required to become involved in the revision process and at no time did it become a passive reading process. This was good practice.
There was good use of materials in all classes visited during the inspection. Examples of maps, diagrams, cartoons, documents and materials from the text-book were all brought into play in the lessons and kept the attention and engagement of the students at a high level. It would further enhance this process if the materials could in some instances be enlarged, made into overhead projector (OHP) transparencies, provided as copies for each student, or transferred to ICT applications. These processes would give a better visual impact for the students and would assist in both new learning and revision techniques. The advantage of making permanent images is that they can be stored, recorded, amended, and reproduced in a very short time. This makes use of the teacher’s time more efficient, and ensures that material will always be at hand for every topic.
Students appeared confident in their work, and there was an air of enjoyment and mutual respect in all the classes inspected. Students were at all times relaxed in their ability to ask, or answer, questions, and to contribute to the lesson. This is evidence of the good relationship that exists between students and teachers in the subject and is to be commended. Given that students are prepared to be involved in class activity, it is recommended that they become involved further, by working in pairs, or small groups, in ‘brainstorming’ or role-play activities for example. This would vary the pace and dynamic of the lesson and would further reinforce the students in their work and learning.
International students are well supported by the provision of classes in English as a Second Language (ESL), for which they are withdrawn from other subjects. This is reported to raise the abilities and progress of the students in all their subjects, including their use of English in History.
The positive and cooperative nature of the teaching and learning process is well reflected in the outcomes for students in their examinations. From the evidence observed, it is clear that this is largely due to the quality of teaching, and to the engagement and work of the students in this subject, for which they are to be congratulated.
Written homework is set regularly for all classes, and is well completed and presented. Some very good essay and discursive work was seen during the course of the inspection, and this is to be commended. Students’ work is monitored frequently, often with annotations and relevant remarks. There is evidence in some instances of good formative assessment procedures and this should be extended to all work where this would be appropriate. Tests are held regularly, either at particular intervals, or at the conclusion of a topic or a section of the course. Because of the latter, it is not usual practice to grade essays or other homework, leaving such assessment instead to the more formal test process.
Grade reports are sent to parents at half terms, in October and at Easter time. More formal in-house examinations take place twice a year for non-state-examination classes. Written reports are sent to parents following those examinations. ‘Mock’ examinations are held for students about to sit the Junior Certificate or Leaving Certificate examinations, usually in February. Reports are sent to parents after those examinations also. Teachers keep good records of their students’ assessments and general progress. These records are used in the annual parent-teacher meetings.
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.