An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Athy Community College
Athy, Co. Kildare
Roll number: 70650L
Date of inspection: 17 November 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Athy Community 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 the teachers and examined students’ work. 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 deputy principal. 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.
History is not a core subject in Athy Community College. At present it is offered as an optional subject every second year at junior cycle and at Leaving Certificate level. At present there are two history classes in the school, one in second year and one in fifth year. This arrangement means that many year groups in the school do not have access to History as a subject. Given the imminent move to the new school building and the projected increase in enrolment from next year on, management intend to make History available as an optional subject at junior cycle every year from 2010 and on a phased basis to the Leaving Certificate classes. This should broaden student’s access to History in the school.
History provision is good for the two history classes in the school. At junior cycle, students have four periods of History per week. This is very satisfactory. At Leaving Certificate level, students have five periods of History per week. This is in accordance with syllabus guidelines. Timetabling is very good, with a good spread of lessons across the week and between morning and afternoon lessons.
Students in the school choose their optional subjects prior to entry into junior cycle or Leaving Certificate from pre-arranged subject bands. At both junior cycle and Leaving Certificate level, it has been the practice in the school to band History against French. This situation is not ideal as it eliminates choice for students who might want to study both subjects. It is recommended that students be offered an open choice of optional subjects prior to entry to both junior and senior cycle and that the option bands be organised using this information so as to accommodate as many student preferences as possible, subject to resources. Furthermore it is recommended that the school discontinue the practice of automatically banding History against French.
There is good provision of resources in the school. There is no fixed budget for History but management is open to the purchase of resources as requested by the subject co-ordinator. There is very good provision of information and communications technology (ICT) resources in the school. Each teacher has been provided with a laptop computer and there are a number of data projectors available for use. A commendable resource available to students this year is the provision of two new cabinets, each containing fifteen mini-laptop computers. These may be wheeled into classrooms and the laptops removed for use with the broadband facility by students during classes. It is expected that ICT resources will be improved even further in the new school building. It is recommended that training in ICT be made available to support teachers using these new facilities.
There is a commendable level of support for continuous professional development (CPD), both whole-staff and subject-specialist CPD. Of particular note is the school’s involvement in the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s (NCCA) key skills initiative with good evidence available of its integration into classroom practice. Teachers have been facilitated in their attendance at history in-service. This is praiseworthy.
There is good departmental planning in the school. At present, the history department is a one-teacher department, although there is another qualified history teacher in the school. The department co-ordinator has undertaken an ICT and History course outside the normal school day. This shows a commendable level of commitment to the subject.
Cross-curricular meetings take place regularly with two other departments in the school, the geography department and the art department. This is good practice for small departments. Meetings take place regularly and the minutes of meetings show a good level of reflective practice on a range of relevant issues including homework, motivating students and encouraging student achievement. Minutes show that meetings have also focused on teaching methodologies in the context of the NCCA’s key skills initiative. Exemplar lesson plans using active learning methodologies have been prepared by the department. This approach is highly commended as a very good support to teaching and learning.
The results of certificate examinations are monitored by the department. This is good practice. It is recommended that an analysis of examination results be undertaken to identify areas of strength as well as areas for improvement and that the department devises strategies to encourage students to achieve at the highest level possible, commensurate with their abilities.
Comprehensive work has gone into the preparation of the subject plan. The department folder contains a range of documentation including the school mission statement, planning for each year group and a diagnostic window reflecting on the position of History in the school. It is commendable that a list of resources, linked to subject content, has been compiled. It is suggested that the conversion of the planning documentation to electronic format will make future review of the plan easier.
Some good planning for students with additional educational needs was in evidence, with an emphasis on key words and differentiation noted. Students for whom English is an additional language are allowed to bring a dictionary into class and examinations. To advance this good work further, it is recommended that the history team liaise with the learning support and resource team in relation to possible additional strategies that would support these students.
With an eye to longer-term planning for the subject, it is recommended that the department plans strategically for the move to the new school building and considers what supports for History, including resources, can be put in place. It is also recommended that the department becomes proactively involved in the promotion of the subject to prospective students at junior and senior cycle. It is suggested that a history notice-board, placed in a prominent area of the new school, would serve to raise the profile of History in the school.
Well-planned lessons were observed during the course of the inspection. The lessons opened in all instances with a review of prior learning. Teacher questioning was the dominant feature of every lesson observed and was used to good effect to advance the lesson. Students settled down well to work, were responsive to questioning and co-operative with their teacher.
A good range of resources was used in the lessons observed including handouts, acetate sheets, the textbook and the board. In one junior-cycle lesson observed, the teacher used a photocopied set of mind-maps, which had been prepared in advance by students, to revise the topic of the Explorations. The use of mind-mapping, which evolved from the school’s NCCA key-skills initiative, is a powerful means to get students to organise their own learning and is highly recommended. Later on in the same lesson, a poster pinned to the board brought a visual element to the lesson and encouraged students to respond to teacher questioning. Where the textbook was used, it was used judiciously and not overused. In a senior cycle lesson observed, good use was made of well-sourced hand-outs to develop the focus of the lesson.
Some use was made of the board in the course of the lessons observed to note down key words. This brings a visual emphasis to the lesson and is a good aid to students experiencing difficulty accessing the subject. It is recommended that students be encouraged to jot down these key words and meanings into their copybooks as the lesson progresses. It is also recommended that greater use be made of the board in general, for example, to introduce the topic of the lesson, to note down the page when the textbook is being used and to note down key points associated with the lesson.
While a high level of teacher input was a feature of all the lessons observed, there was some student activity also. This is good practice. Students responded well when asked to take down dictated key phrases or explanations in their notes copy. Students in a junior cycle class responded with interest when an acetate with visuals was introduced and students were asked to transcribe the notes on the visuals into their student workbooks. It is recommended that care be taken to balance teacher input with student activity and that independent learning opportunities, including individual, pair and group work, be integrated into every lesson where possible and practicable.
Students were knowledgeable about their courses. Good teacher-pupil rapport was evident in all lessons observed. A pleasant, relaxed and attentive atmosphere prevailed throughout.
Very good modes of assessment were seen in the course of the inspection. Teacher questioning was a feature of every lesson observed and was used to good effect to assess student understanding. It is commendable that homework is given regularly and frequently monitored. The use of Assessment for Learning strategies was seen in the copybooks examined. This is praiseworthy. Frequent testing, including end-of-topic and mid-term tests, was used in every class visited to assess student progress. This is good practice. It is laudable that project work is also used as an alternative mode of assessment. Student achievement in History is marked at an academic achievement awards night. This is good practice.
Very good record keeping was noted during the course of the inspection. Assessment outcomes are communicated to parents by means of the student journal, parent-teacher meetings and school reports.
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 principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, March 2010