An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Good Counsel College
New Ross, County Wexford
Roll number: 63610I
Date of inspection: 31 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Good Counsel College, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 subject teachers.
History is well provided for in Good Counsel College. In junior cycle, there are three class periods per week. In second and third years, History classes are streamed, but this system has recently changed, with mixed-ability classes being introduced into first year. There are six class groups each in second and third year, with five groups in first year, as there is a slight decrease this year in overall numbers attending the school.
The Transition Year programme is optional, but all students in the year take History. They form one class group and have two class periods per week for the subject. Fifth year has two class groups this year, showing an increase in numbers taking History over previous years. These classes are mixed-ability groups and have five class periods per week, one double and three single periods. Sixth year has one class group and, like fifth year, is a mixed-ability unit with five class periods per week. History is not offered in the other programmes run in senior cycle.
Rooms are mostly allocated on a teacher basis, and most History teachers have their own rooms, with others using rooms as timetabled. As the teachers with room-bases also teach other subjects, their rooms are host to displaying a representative mixture of subject material. It is the wish of the History teachers that there will be a History resource area or room provided in the near future.
There is at present no library in the school, the room having been allocated to other functions in recent years. There is consequently no library for the teaching and learning of History in the school, although some teachers provide books of their own to assist their students. The school plans to restore a library as soon as this is feasible. History will benefit greatly from this development when it happens and the teachers look forward to having this important resource to benefit their students and themselves in the preparation and study of the subject.
There is at present an information and communications technology (ICT) room in the school to which History teachers and classes have some access. The History teachers hope for greater access to ICT facilities especially in the light of the developments and requirements of the new syllabus in Leaving Certificate in History. The board of management is at present offering assistance to teachers who wish to purchase their own laptop computers. There is currently one data projector in the school, but this is situated in the Science area and is not generally accessible to History classes. In one example a data projector and laptop have been sourced in order to utilise ICT in the teaching of History in the school. Broadband has been supplied to the school, but the campus-style design of the buildings means that at present it is impossible to connect all classrooms to this facility. The school management is at present attempting to redress this problem.
There is an open choice system for students selecting their subjects for senior cycle. From this initial indication, option blocks are created and the great majority of students are able to study their preferred subjects for the Leaving Certificate. In the last two years, the numbers studying History have increased substantially. The History teachers hope that this increase in uptake will be sustained.
The History teachers are facilitated in meeting formally twice a year, and they often meet informally during the school year. The formal meetings are devoted to planning for the subject, both in terms of curricular and lesson planning, as well as general planning regarding materials, visits, examinations and progress of students. At present, one teacher takes the chair at meetings, but the team was open to the idea of having a rotating co-ordinator or chair of the group for future planning meetings in History.
As a team the History teachers have produced printed plans which cover major areas of preparation and development of their subject. While this is a useful document, it obviously needs expansion and further thought for the future. At present, plans for the subject include inviting external speakers to the school to talk on historical topics, development of local interest and study, and expansion of the Transition Year programme in History. Discussion on the development of ICT in History and, in particular, the linking of all History classrooms to the broadband connection recently installed in the school, has been a priority in the planning meetings. Another major part of planning has been a review of learning outcomes, standards attained by students and development of teaching and learning of the History syllabus at all levels. The school has also had an exchange with an American school, and the teachers hope to build on this and on the ideas it spawned.
It is recommended that this good initial work be developed by devoting a planning meeting annually to strategic planning for the future of the subject in the school and in drawing up an inventory of resources available to teachers of History. It is recognised that the History teachers are anxious to develop a History resource room and to support the recreation of a school library. Management in the school are aware of these aspirations and are actively considering revitalising the school library.
Teachers of History are supported in their attendance at inservice courses for the subject, and management is in favour of teachers engaging in continuous professional development in various ways. There is an interest in post-graduate study and some teachers are holders of post-graduate degrees. This contributes to their breadth of interest and experience in the subject, and is reflected in planning and delivery of History lessons. There is contact between the History teachers and their subject association: some teachers attend meetings when possible and more of the teachers are considering joining. They regard this as being particularly important as the new Leaving Certificate syllabus is now approaching its first examination and it will be valuable to maintain contact with other teachers of the subject to review progress.
The History teachers liaise well with the learning-support teachers and with students requiring support in the subject: they have assisted in facilitating students in using keyboards for their History work. This is to be commended.
All classes inspected were well advanced with their syllabus, were working hard and responded well to the material being used in the lessons. Comprehensive preparations had been made for each of the lessons visited and there was skilful and well-integrated use of audio-visual and information and communications technology (ICT) in the delivery of the material.
The use of Powerpoint in some lessons greatly enhanced the impact of the message being presented, particularly to senior-cycle students. Discussion of the material encouraged the full engagement of students with the topic and led to ‘brainstorming’ sessions which produced good suggestions and interesting ideas from the students in the classes. The use of timelines was invaluable in dealing with complicated events and sometimes confusing chronology. Students benefited from the methodologies employed which assisted in their progress through the syllabus. Video was also used to contextualise events and personalities in complex situations. This was also a successful method which would be even more effective if video-clips were shorter and more frequent, using the well-prepared question and information sheets between each clip. Targeted questions in the classes revealed that students had gleaned a great deal from the presentation of material and this is to be commended.
In some classes, homework was briefly checked and initialled by the teacher. This worked well, as the lesson continued while the checking took place. The use of overhead projector (OHP) slides which had enlarged material from the text book, greatly assisted in class comprehension and progress with topics. Well prepared slides can be of great benefit when dealing with long or complex topics, and the examples seen proved this point. Students engaged well with the subject material and readily answered questions as the lesson progressed.
A strong feature common to the classes visited was the willingness of teachers to encourage students to put forward benefits and drawbacks to developments being discussed and to evaluate important aspects of the topics being taught. By the end of each class inspected, it was clear that students had not only engaged with the topics being taught, but had a good understanding of plus and minus factors as well. Whether lessons were presented on the board, by OHP, by discursive methods or through the use of ICT, students acquired an understanding of the topics being covered.
Teachers, however good and well-prepared their material, should endeavour to draw students more into the central activity of the class, and to encourage student-directed and student-centred learning processes to vary the pace of lessons and to create a more collaborative effort in the work being done.
In some rooms, the stimulus material on display assisted greatly in the learning process. Visual aids can be very helpful in the teaching of History, as can the display of students’ work, particularly projects. Where this is not possible within the classroom, it is a good idea to use ‘public’ space in the school, by creating a History notice board or display case to exhibit work and topical or recent publications, pictures and posters. This also helps to raise the level of exposure and interest in the subject in the school.
Students in all classes inspected were well-behaved, involved in their work, attentive at all times and responsive to the material being used in the lesson. A good working environment was in evidence and this created mutual respect among students, and between students and teachers. This is to be commended.
The History teachers are clearly enthusiastic about their subject, well prepared for classes, and are comfortable using what ICT is currently available. They have collected much relevant software and look forward to using it to good purpose in their classes when the facilities enable this to occur.
Homework is set regularly for the classes inspected; this consists of a variety of written, reading and research work. The work is regularly monitored and marked. In many cases good annotation of work assists in the learning process. Greater use of formative assessment will also develop the students’ own learning from their work.
Class tests take place, usually at the completion of topics, and there are two written examinations per year for each class. Third and sixth years also have ‘mock’ examinations in preparation for their certificate examinations in the summer. Written reports are sent home to parents twice a year. There is also a ‘role of merit’ in the school which recognises the positive contribution of students to the school, and not just in academic areas.
Annual parent-teacher meetings are organised for each year at which students’ progress is discussed. There are also information meetings for parents as and when they are required, but particularly in relation to student subject choice for senior cycle programmes and subjects.
Students generally have a good level of attainment in History, but the teachers are currently analysing progress and levels in the subject with a view to advising students how best to maximise their abilities in History. They are to be commended in this work and are to be encouraged in their mid to long-term planning for the future of History in the school.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
§ History is well provided for in the school and the advent of mixed-ability classes in first year has been successful in History
§ Some rooms are teacher-based and these work well for the teaching of the subject, but the teachers still aspire to having a History resource centre for the use of History teachers and students.
§ ICT is in use in some classes and this is to commended: the provision of ICT facilities across the school is awaited by the teachers who are keen to implement its many applications, particularly in senior cycle classes.
§ Time is provided for History teachers to plan for their subject: they welcome this opportunity and use it well, and produce positive documents.
§ There are some ideas for the future of History, but greater attention needs to be paid to this area and to the organisation of History teachers’ meetings.
§ Use of local amenities for History, and organisation of visits and outings for the subject are to be commended.
§ There is a reasonable uptake in History for senior cycle. Teachers are anxious to encourage a more even uptake and to encourage students to choose History in the future.
§ History teachers are involved in CPD: inservice courses are attended and there is some connection with their subject association. Greater use of the facilities and contacts available will benefit History teaching and learning in the school.
§ There is a wide and well integrated variety of methodologies employed in the teaching and learning of History and this is to be both commended and encouraged, particularly as ICT facilities grow.
§ Good attention is paid to assessment of the subject, with constructive homework being set, completed and monitored. There is good communication with parents, who receive written reports after each set of examinations.
§ Students’ attainment levels in History are generally good, and the History team is applying itself to analysing and monitoring progress of History students at all levels.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
§ History teachers should continue to improve their base-classrooms while working towards their goal of a History resource area for the school.
§ It is recommended that progress towards a school library be expedited and in the meantime that History teachers collaborate in making what books are in existence available both to teachers and students of the subject.
§ It is recommended that broadband be made available to History classrooms as soon as possible in order to continue the good work in ICT, already initiated by History teachers, particularly in their senior cycle classes.
§ As a positive development in the planning area, History teachers should establish a rotating coordinator for their team, and provide for strategic planning for their subject without delay.
§ Serious consideration should be given to the establishment of a History display case or notice board in a public area of the school to raise the awareness, profile and acknowledgement of the subject and its achievements in the school.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of History, the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.