An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Clondalkin, Dublin 22
Roll number: 60122D
Date of inspection: 14 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Bríde, Clondalkin. 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 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 teachers. The board of management of the school was given an 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 of this report.
Coláiste Bríde is a voluntary secondary school. History is a core subject for all junior cycle students, in line with the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools. Junior cycle classes have three periods of History a week. This is good provision. Timetabling constraints this year have led to some compromises being made in timetabling for junior cycle history classes. Some class groups at junior cycle have history lessons twice on the one day, on three successive days or afternoon lessons only. Management hope to rectify this situation in future years so that students have a better spread of lessons across the week and between morning and afternoon lessons. This is to be welcomed.
Transition Year (TY) is optional in the school. All TY students study a ten week module of an interesting and varied history programme. The provision of three periods of History a week for TY is satisfactory. At Leaving Certificate level, students have five class periods per week, one double and three singles. This is in line with syllabus guidelines.
Very good arrangements are in place for student access to History at Leaving Certificate level. Students are given an open choice when choosing their Leaving Certificate subjects. This is good practice. Students are well supported when making their choices. The school holds an information evening for parents and has a very good level of in-school support for students. An information booklet on subject choice, information sessions in the school, peer-to-peer support from students already studying the subject and support from the programme co-ordinator and subject teachers are provided. It is noted that the two history classes in sixth year are timetabled on the same option line. To broaden the range of student access points to the subject, it is suggested that, where student demand for two History classes at Leaving Certificate level exists, consideration be given to making History available on more than one option line as has been the case in previous years.
Students’ access to the history curriculum, at a level appropriate to their abilities, is well supported across the school. Very good support for students with additional educational needs was seen during the course of the inspection, with good links evident between the history department and the team supporting those students. For example, a multi-cultural centre in the school, which supports those students for whom English is an additional language, has developed a number of history-specific materials. In addition, the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP) and team-teaching is available to certain classes. This is praiseworthy
A very good range of resources is available to history teachers. The history department has a budget and resources are also provided on a needs basis. Teachers store history resources in their classrooms and in a dedicated history storage area. Well appointed classrooms were seen in the course of the inspection, most with a data projector mounted on the ceiling, and all equipped with a computer with internet access and printer. Storage presses, screens and blinds were also in evidence. These facilities, coupled with the sharing of history resources on the schools intranet, are highly commended as a valuable support for history teaching.
Management facilitates rotation of teachers across all levels. This is praiseworthy and builds capacity in the school. Teacher professional development, including teacher attendance at history in-service, is facilitated. A number of teachers are members of the History Teachers Association of Ireland (HTAI). This shows a laudable commitment to the subject. New teachers to the department are well supported. A subject mentor system is in place in the school, where an established history teacher in the school supports teachers new to the department. This is worthy of the highest commendation.
Very good extracurricular, cross-curricular and co-curricular supports for History are in place in the school. Field trips and visits by speakers to the school are facilitated by management. A Historical Society, an after-school history club that meets one day a week, has been recently set up. The school is involved in the Holocaust Memorial Day crocus garden project. These initiatives are commended as they raise the profile of History in the school.
Very good department planning is in evidence in the school. The department is ably led by a co-ordinator whose duties include the promotion of History in the school. This position is rotated among team members. This is good practice. Meetings are held each term and minutes are available. A very good level of collaboration between teachers is noted and commended. Teachers are to be applauded for preparing a sizeable bank of resources for history classes which have been placed on the school’s intranet. The department presents a report on achievements during the year as well as proposals for the future to the board of management at the end of each year. This practice is commendable and shows that there is a good level of reflective practice and forward planning in the department.
A comprehensive subject plan is in place for History. The department folder contains a good range of documents including organisational, assessment and planning details. It is recommended that the planning documents for each year group be expanded to include planning on a shorter timescale, termly rather than yearly. This should facilitate the holding of common examinations. It is also suggested that some time be given at department meetings to the discussion of teaching and learning for different year groups. This will facilitate teachers in identifying learning outcomes linked to curriculum content, suitable methodologies, resources and assessment strategies.
The department compares results in certificate examinations against the national average. This is good practice. It is recommended that the history department use the analysis of this data to identify areas of strengths and areas for improvement, thus contributing to team analysis and review.
Very good planning for students with additional educational needs was in evidence with a commendable emphasis on the acquisition of key words. Evidence of co-curricular planning was seen in the course of the inspection. For example, an emphasis on timelines and chronology was seen in many history lessons as the history inspection took place during Maths Week.
A good level of individual planning was seen in the course of the inspection. Many teachers made their individual planning materials available to the inspector. Teachers are to be commended for the level of preparation they put into their classes.
Very good quality teaching and learning was in evidence during the course of the inspection. A number of teachers shared the lesson objective with the students at the start of the lesson and a smaller number made time for review at the end of the lesson. It is recommended that these good practices be extended to all classes. At the start of the lessons, all teachers used questioning to link to prior learning and to broaden student knowledge. This is good practice. In one instance, the use of a quiz to revise work completed was a good aid to student participation and engagement.
A very good range of resources prepared in advance, including some excellent ICT resources, was in evidence in the classrooms visited. Some very good use was made of the broadband facility, available in the school, to link to relevant websites. This is praiseworthy. The use of PowerPoint presentations, some of them excellent, was seen in many classes with many teachers accessing these presentations directly on the school’s intranet. This system is highly commended as an important support to history teaching. Some teacher-produced worksheets of a very high quality were seen in the course of the inspection. The use of a classroom timer projected onto a screen was a good prompt to students completing worksheets in one classroom. Teachers are to be commended for the way they have embraced the very good ICT facilities available.
Good use of visuals, including photographs, drawings and film clips, to develop student understanding was also observed in many classrooms visited. For example, in one lesson on the work of the archaeologist, the teacher used the data-projector to project visuals to illustrate stratigraphy, coin-dating and dendrochronology. In another junior cycle lesson, an acetate of Martin Luther pinning the ninety-five theses to the door in Wittenberg was used to introduce the main topic of the lesson. It was noted that, when visuals were used, the level of student engagement and participation was high. Teachers are encouraged to look at ways that the use of visuals can be extended, where appropriate.
Good pacing and smooth transitions were seen in the majority of lessons inspected. Best practice was in evidence where teachers used a variety of different resources and methodologies to engage student interest and to cater for different learning styles. For example, in one junior cycle lesson on Mussolini’s foreign policy, the teacher used a PowerPoint presentation to introduce the main points of the lesson, showed a short film clip and introduced a student worksheet on the topic. In a minority of lessons, most of the lesson was taken up with a review of material already covered and the new topic was not introduced until late into the lesson. It is recommended that due attention is paid to pacing and timing as the lesson progresses and that new topics should be introduced towards the beginning rather than the end of the lesson. In some lessons observed, students were encouraged to transcribe notes from the board or from PowerPoint presentations. Note-taking can be a good aid to student retention but is recommended that this activity be time-limited and balanced with other activities.
In the majority of lessons inspected, students had an opportunity to be active in their own learning through the use of individual or group work. This is good practice. Where best practice concerning group work was observed, the groups were organised by the teacher beforehand, clear instructions were given as to the task, students in groups had clearly defined roles and student feedback was short and focused. It is recommended that students be given independent or collaborative learning opportunities, such as individual work, pair work or group work, in every lesson, where practicable, and that when group work is undertaken, best practice is observed. More information about effective group work can be found at www.curriculumonline.ie .
Differentiation, in general, was well handled. In most lessons inspected, attention was paid to the development of key word skills, with key word posters on display in many classrooms. In some classrooms, students were encouraged to take down key terms into their copies or key word note-books. For example, in one junior cycle class on the Reformation, the teacher introduced associated key terms at the start of the lesson and asked students to write these down into their copies. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons. Teachers were sensitive to possible student difficulties, giving help with the pronunciation of words and checking student understanding of key terms. This is commendable. It is recommended that teachers continue to be aware of the different levels of student ability within the classroom and adapt questioning and tasks to suit those different levels.
A very positive and supportive atmosphere prevailed in all classrooms visited. Room arrangements were conducive to a safe, orderly and participative environment. Students were comfortable asking and answering questions. Teachers were affirming of students efforts and student enthusiasm and enjoyment of the subject was evident.
Good modes of assessment are in use in the school including questioning, homework, project-work, end-of-topic tests and formal examinations. A good mix of higher-order and lower-order questioning was in use in some classrooms. At times, it is suggested that the use of targeted questioning, rather than global questioning, be extended to promote the inclusion of the more reticent or disengaged students. The use of oral assessment strategies, where students were asked to present their work to the class, as seen in a minority of lessons, is highly commended. Student achievement is marked by means of a student commendation report or postcard sent to the student’s home. This is good practice.
Good work was seen in the majority of student copybooks and folders observed during the course of the inspection. In most classrooms visited, homework is frequently given and homework is monitored regularly in some classrooms. It is suggested that some students may need prompting to ensure that they write down their homework in their student journals. In some classrooms, reading tasks had been given to students as homework. It is recommended that, where reading tasks are given to students, they should involve material already covered in class rather than new material and that students be given some short questions to focus them on the reading tasks. In some student copybooks, there was evidence of the use of formative assessment strategies by teachers when students were undertaking extended writings tasks. This is good practice. It is recommended that homework, including the use of extended writing tasks, is given regularly and frequently monitored. Furthermore, it is recommended that the good practice evident in some classes, in relation to formative assessment strategies, is extended to all classrooms.
Common formal examinations, differentiated for student access, were in evidence in the course of the inspection. This is good practice. A good level of preparation for examinations was seen where appropriate.
The school communicates with parents through the use of the student journal, written reports sent home twice a year and parent-teacher meetings twice a 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 and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, April 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management are very happy to receive this endorsement of good practice in our school and to compliment the commitment and dedication of the teachers to our improvement agenda in the area of teaching and learning.
The Board of Management wish to thank the Inspector for the professional engagement with the staff.
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 recommendations contained in the report will be on the agenda for the next subject department meeting for history. The report will be made available to all staff on our shared network and each subject department will be asked to review their own subject in the context of the findings in this report.
Since the date of the inspection the History Coordinator has made a presentation to all staff on the topic of the History Inspection in order to share best practice.