An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection of History

 

REPORT

 

Nagle Rice Secondary School

Doneraile, County Cork

Roll number: 62210R

 

 Date of inspection: 14 May 2007

Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Nagle Rice Secondary School. 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 two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given the 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 to this report.

 

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Nagle Rice Secondary School was formed through an amalgamation of two local secondary schools. As such, it continues appropriately with the recognised core curriculum of secondary schools, offering History as a compulsory subject to Junior Certificate. The timetable allocation to junior cycle History is excellent, varying between three and four periods per week in alternate years. Furthermore, the spread of these classes is such that in every instance, classes take place on separate days and they are spread very evenly across the days of the week and the timeslots on the timetable. This provision is a very valuable support to junior History.

 

In senior cycle, the fact that all Transition Year (TY) students study History is applauded as a fine commitment to the promotion of social studies, which is one of the recommended elements of a good TY programme. Satisfactory too is the provision of three single periods per week for History, over a half-year module. Following History, students then study Geography for the remainder of the year. It may be a good idea to alternate this system in different years, with Geography first, then History and so on. The fact that students are studying one subject rather than another when the time comes for them to make their fifth-year choices late in TY may have an influence on their eventual choice. Furthermore, the current linkage with Geography is such that it means that a teacher of History who does not also have a Geography qualification would find it difficult to fit into the TY structure. These points are offered merely for consideration, within the otherwise-satisfactory time allocation for TY History.

 

Provision for History to Leaving Certificate is satisfactory, with an allocation of five periods per week, consisting of a double period and three single periods, for History in each year group. The subject enters an options system after TY, with slight variations in the option bands each year. Current fifth-year history students selected the subject from a block containing Chemistry, Accounting and Geography, with the latter offered in another block as well. The options for the current sixth-year students included Physics, Accounting and Music across from History. These options are relatively fair to History, particularly as Geography is on offer in another timeslot as well in fifth year. The school might consider an open choice system in the future, building the options after the students’ initial preferences have been ascertained. It is worth investigating whether such a system would work and would satisfy a greater number of students than the current, more structured one does.

 

General resource provision for History is very satisfactory. Budgeting is as needs arise in general, which is satisfactory, and some cost-effective suggestions have been offered to augment the school’s stock of history books and periodicals. The existing stock of books, retained in a press in the history room, is already good, with students also having access to Mallow library, the mobile library which calls on Fridays and to the school’s own computer facilities for research work. The fact that History has a designated classroom is a very positive support for the subject. It is a nicely decorated facility, complete with television and DVD player, good display areas and broadband internet access. A recent finance sub-committee decision to fund the provision of a laptop computer and data projector each for the history and geography rooms is certainly applauded, as such equipment can play a central role in the delivery of History at all levels. It may, in fact, become necessary to develop a timetable for the history room, identifying times where it is available for use by history classes. With roughly thirty-five periods of History per week at the school, it should be possible to accommodate a significant number of classes in the facility when required. The fact that the geography room is adjacent to the history room might also allow for some flexibility in terms of using either facility’s data projector.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

The school has engaged with the process of school development planning in recent years and an element of this commitment has been the formation of subject departments. There is a history department, with a designated co-ordinator in place. It is reported that approximately three departmental meetings are held each year, with the co-ordinator and another teacher also having regular contact with the Cork branch of the History Teachers Association of Ireland (HTAI). It is good to note also that the attendance of the senior history teachers at the Leaving Certificate in-service training offered by the History In-Service Team (HIST) has been both regular and fruitful. Management is also applauded for its support of such important planning work. With a change in personnel imminent, it may also be important to consider upskilling another history teacher in the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus to help cope with such personnel changes in the coming year.

 

The honesty of the department and co-ordinator in relation to progress to date has been very impressive, as has been the desire to use the subject inspection process itself to guide some future planning work. There is a refreshing realisation that not everything which might have been tackled has, as yet, been engaged with and this is fully understandable. It is also true that the ultimate goal of all subject department planning should be the development of teaching and learning and it is sensible to keep discussion of this core aim of the department’s work to the fore at all meetings. The template provided by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) has been closely followed as an aid to department planning and some excellent material has been generated around the departmental mission statement, timetabling, textbooks, cross-curricular possibilities and syllabus content. It is recommended that the maintenance of minutes of meetings, and perhaps the formal communication of any relevant outcomes to the principal, would be a simple means of ensuring both departmental continuity and management awareness of departmental needs as they arise. Copies of all relevant syllabus and guidelines materials might also be included in the department folder and disseminated to all history teachers in time.

 

The department has moved more recently towards identifying resources currently held by individual teachers but which might be pooled for common usage in time. This is a very sensible strategy and one which should make preparation of lessons and resources easier for everyone eventually. Given the imminence of the provision of a data projector for the history room, the electronic storage of scanned images, documents, recorded DVDs and so on in a central file would be an obvious target to aim for. It would also be advisable that a list of all the resources – books, DVDs, periodicals – should be generated, to ensure that all teachers are aware of what is available. For further consideration, it is suggested that the historic area in which the school is situated might also inspire a history noticeboard, highlighting local or topical events, with material about the career-relevance of History also being quite relevant to such a noticeboard, if developed. It is good to note that the school’s guidance department liaises with history personnel to ensure that students are given optimum information about the subject as they make Leaving Certificate choices. This includes the fact that the revised syllabus has subsumed Economic History and has research and document components, considerably lessening the previous emphasis on essay writing.

 

Individual teacher planning and preparation observed was very satisfactory. All teachers were teaching material appropriate to the relevant syllabus or, in the case of the TY programme, appropriate to the broad-based aims of TY in general. All were also following clear yearly schemes of work or, in a number of instances, individual lesson plans. Very good banks of resource materials were found to have been prepared by teachers, with every lesson observed seeing the deployment of overhead projectors, often with handout accompaniment, to assist in teaching and learning. It was noted also that a number of teachers keep very thorough records of students’ performance and, in the context of those about to sit state examinations, have also put considerable thought into the levels which might best suit students in the June examinations.

 

Teaching and learning

 

Classrooms visited during the inspection were bright and pleasant, with good seating arrangements affording teachers the opportunity to move around, and allowing clear views of the board area for all students. The designated history room was particularly well decorated, given that it is a base room, but the other classrooms were certainly suitable environments for teaching and learning as well. The availability of overhead projectors in all rooms and, in some cases, of televisions and DVD players were also positive supports. Lessons began in a natural, unforced atmosphere and, in all lessons, there was a very good, positive rapport between teachers and students throughout. In most classes, the monitoring of previously assigned homework was used as an appropriate link between material already studied and new directions ahead.

 

It was refreshing to see the employment of significant visual stimuli by teachers in all lessons, particularly through the use of overhead projectors. This was an important and very appropriate feature of the teaching seen, particularly as all history classes in the school operate in mixed-ability contexts. Given the time of year involved, an appropriate emphasis on revision, but on lively revision, was noted, using summary charts, diagrams of a prepared and developmental nature, maps and other illustrations projected on the whiteboard. Occasionally, the quality of images presented a slight challenge to viewing and, perhaps, might have been augmented by reference to similar maps or images in the textbook. In some instances, the projection itself was a little small and might have been enlarged by moving the projector back slightly. Overall, however, these were very minor concerns, as the quality of the material covered, not overloaded with text but yet very focused on core material, was excellent. Emphases on causes, details and results of the discoveries, and on the developing steps to World War II, were good examples of this structured approach to overhead projector use. Some teachers made further very good use of handouts, including visual and verbal analyses of inter-war political systems, to supplement the material presented on the screens, while the idea of using a blank screen to develop a diagram showing the different groupings in pre-Famine Ireland was a simple and effective visualisation of an otherwise complex issue for students to grasp. On another occasion, material covered via the screen and handouts was vividly enhanced by means of a short, well discussed film extract. The general level of use of such visual stimuli reinforces the value of the school’s decision to supply a data projector for the history room. It is worth noting that, if training in the use of that equipment is desired in time, the Cork branch of the HTAI would be well worth contacting in this respect.

 

Students were well questioned by teachers in all lessons and it was noticeable that in the vast majority of instances, concentration levels were as good towards the end of lessons as they were at the beginning. Although many students were shy or reticent, perhaps due to the presence of the inspector, the quality of answering was generally very good. Teachers varied questioning styles and were very adept at spreading questions evenly among students. This was particularly important because, in most lessons, girls were in the minority and yet were never marginalised because of this, thanks in no small part to skilful and sustained questioning. Where possible, as with the linkage between the Renaissance and the Discoveries and between fascism, communism and democracy, teachers used students’ responses to delve deeper into revision topics. A suggestion which has been made on occasion is that this strategy should also be used in relation to visual materials. For example, where illustrations, maps or population graphs were deployed, it would be good training and self-directed learning for students to be asked to identify what the images taught us, rather than having such analysis done for them by the teacher. Again in the context of mixed-ability teaching, it was very good to note that teachers spread questions appropriately to students of differing abilities and, on occasions where students were seen to struggle with questions, relatively poor answers were dealt with sensitively and without any cause for embarrassment.

 

The general pitch of the material dealt with in all lessons was very good. Teachers always explained new or difficult words and concepts. It was good to note the degree to which teachers added to students’ understanding by comparisons with or allusions to modern events. Modern-day famines and the up-coming general election, for instance, were drawn on to create historical parallels and understanding in students’ minds. Even the old Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme was cleverly utilised as an aid to explaining propaganda in one lesson. In some lessons, important terms were emphasised where they related in particular to stated elements of a syllabus. This made great sense and deserved to be done in all lessons. A simple idea which should work, in the context of the very good usage of overhead projectors, would be to place key words, names of key personalities or concepts on the right or left hand margins of the whiteboards that are not covered by the projection. This would highlight such terms for all students, add to the chances of retention and could also stimulate student note-making.

 

In referring to student note-making, this valuable culture had been developed in one senior class to the point that students instinctively took out copybooks and made notes without teacher direction. In another instance, some excellent spider diagrams were developed by the teacher on the board, rounding out key learning points in the topic. On occasion, these may have been rubbed out a little too quickly, not allowing for full completion of the note-making task by some students. It would also make sense to ask students to retain separate notes and homework copybooks or, if handouts are the preferred retention option, to retain folders for such handouts. At other times, following very thorough explanations, it was good to note a teacher ask students if any one did not understand what had been covered. While slightly more time might have been allowed for possible questions to arise in such instances, the philosophy underpinning such strategies was clearly one of ensuring student retention and comprehension, which is roundly applauded. Where note-making was not strongly emphasised, it is urged for consideration in the future, although it is also acknowledged that some excellent handouts were used instead of notes on occasion. It was very pleasing to note that no lesson relied to any significant degree on the mere reading of sections of a textbook, and the overall concentration on discussion, questioning, visualisation and retention made eminent sense.

 

Assessment

 

Nagle Rice School generally has a solid system of formal assessment in place for all subjects. There are Christmas examinations for all groups, with pre-examinations for third-year and sixth-year students in the spring and summer examinations for other class groups. TY students have in-class assessments as required. Parent-teacher meetings are held for each year group and written reports detailing students’ progress are sent home at pivotal points within the academic year.

 

In History more specifically, a fine culture of informal assessment, through oral questioning and monitoring of homework, has already been mentioned. In terms of homework suggestions, slightly more use of visual tasks is worthy of consideration. These might include diagram-making or picture drawing for younger students, or timechart development for older ones. The value of student-centred interrogation of visual sources has also been referred to and this could also form part of some homework assignments. In addition to sentence-based and longer written answers, it was good to see some younger classes given puzzlemaker exercises as these increase students’ awareness of key terms needed to write effective ‘history’. Some excellent commitment to homework correction has been noted on occasion, with one set of copybooks examined combining the use of a state-examination marking scheme with considerable amounts of formative, encouraging comments. It has also been recommended that junior students might benefit from clear training at an early stage in what a ‘significant relevant statement’ is and how it is key to good assessment grades. It is also recommended that any homework assigned should stipulate a desired number of points or paragraphs as a rule, rather than a potentially more nebulous number of pages for a task.

 

Finally, in terms of more formal assessment, it is suggested that the history department might also consider the setting of a portion of future end-of-term examinations with at least one common component. This can be a valuable way of gauging students’ progress by comparison with peers, can provide guidance on the appropriate level a student should take in a state examination and, ultimately, it helps to share the workload of examination-setting among colleagues. Discussion around this idea might profitably form part of a future departmental planning meeting.

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         Timetable provision for junior cycle History and for Leaving Certificate History at the school is excellent.

·         The overall time allocation to History in TY is satisfactory.

·         The subject options mechanism on offer in fifth and sixth year is quite fair to History.

·         The allocation of a base room for History at the school is very encouraging.

·         The school’s plan to supply a laptop computer and data projector to the history room is an exciting opportunity to develop teaching and learning in the subject.

·         Very good, practical work has been done in terms of both departmental and individual planning in History.

·         The emphasis on the use of overhead projector and other visual stimuli, good questioning and the development of positive learning environments are particularly impressive features of the teaching observed, which was of a very good standard in all lessons.

·         Some very good use of formative and mark-based assessment has been noted, while informal assessment through oral questioning has been very satisfactory.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

·         A review, though not necessarily a restructuring, of the TY provision for History is recommended.

·         A more open subject choice system in fifth year is worthy of consideration as a means of ensuring optimal levels of student satisfaction.

·         The maintenance and dissemination of meeting minutes, the collaborative development of resources and an ongoing focus on issues relating to teaching and learning specifically should remain central to departmental planning in History.

·         Slightly more care has been recommended around the visibility of images and the allowance of sufficient time for students to write notes or ask questions, but within the context of a fine standard of teaching and learning observed overall.

·         A somewhat more specific focus on significant relevant statements and required numbers of points in homework assignment is desirable, as is the exploration of common assessment in formal examinations if practicable.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Appendix

School Response to the Report

Submitted by the Board of Management

  

 

 

          Inspection Report School Response Form

 

 

            Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report

The Board of Management welcomes this excellent report and congratulates the Principal, the staff of the History Department and our Students.

 

 

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 Board welcomes the recommendations and will strive to provide the necessary resources in order to maintain the quality of teaching and learning in Nagle Rice Secondary School.  The Board wishes to acknowledge the courteous and professional manner in which the inspector carried out this subject inspection.