An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of History
Oaklands Community College
Edenderry, Co. Offaly
Roll number: 72540O
Date of inspection: 20 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Oaklands Community 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 two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal.
All students have a good level of access to History as a subject at junior cycle in Oaklands Community College. It is available as an optional subject for second and third year students while in first year most students take History, with the exception of some JCSP students who are given the option of taking Art, Craft and Design instead.
Very good provision is available for History at junior cycle. First year students have three single periods of History a week. In second year and third year History is timetabled against Materials Technology(Wood) and Home Economics and in these year groups students have two double periods of history per week. Timetabling is generally good with a good spread of lessons across the week and between morning and afternoon lessons. †It is recommended that, where History is timetabled against practical subjects, management look at the option of timetabling History over three days with one double and two single periods.
History students choose their optional subjects for first year prior to coming to the school following an open day to which prospective students are invited and where students get an opportunity to visit classrooms and look at textbooks. The option bands are generated based on student preference and staff availability. History is only available on one option band which limits student access points in relation to the subject. It is recommended that consideration be given to the provision of a short sampler programme in first year to allow students to make a more informed choice when choosing optional subjects. Including History on two option lines, where resources permit, is suggested as a means of broadening studentsí access to the subject.
Leaving Certificate options are generated based on an open survey of studentsí preferences and every effort is made to accommodate students in their subject selection.† This is laudable. There is no Leaving Certificate History class in the school at present and the numbers taking the subject at Leaving Certificate level have fluctuated over the years. It is recommended that, in the interest of providing a broad and balanced curriculum at senior level, the maintenance of a continued presence of the subject on the Leaving Certificate timetable should be seen as a priority in the coming years. The provision of a history notice-board in the school is suggested as one way that the profile of the subject could be raised in the school.
There are good resources for history teaching available, including class sets of history books which are used for differentiation and as an additional resource. This is good practice. While the department does not have a fixed budget, management is open to requests for resources. It is recommended that a fixed budget for History be re-introduced and spent and that a central storage area for History, to which all teachers have access, be developed.
There are good information and communication technology (ICT) resources, including broadband facilities, available in the school. Classrooms visited were well appointed, some with data-projectors, and all with computers and adequate storage. This is commendable. It is recommended that care be taken, in instances where large numbers are in a class group, that there is sufficient desk space available for every student.
There is good support for extracurricular activities in the school and field trips have been arranged for junior cycle students to places of historical interest.
Teacher attendance at history in-service has been facilitated by management. The school pays teacher subscription to the History Teacherís Association of Ireland (HTAI). This is commendable.
The History team has experienced significant change in recent years and the current team is making good progress in collegial and collaborative practices. A coordinator is in place and this position rotates frequently. This is commendable. Meetings are held three times a year. Minutes of meetings indicate collaboration on a range of areas such as textbooks, the sharing of resources and planning for students with additional educational needs.
Good work has gone into the preparation of a department plan. The department folder includes aims and objectives, organisational details, half termly planning for all year groups and programme syllabuses. Good links exist between the department and the team supporting students with additional educational needs.
In order to further develop the work of the history department, it is suggested that some time be given at department meetings to the discussion of teaching and learning strategies for different year groups. This will facilitate teachers in identifying learning outcomes linked to curriculum content, suitable methodologies, resources and assessment strategies. It is also recommended that time be allocated during planning meetings to considering how the department might have a role in the promotion of the subject with a view to its reintroduction at Leaving Certificate level. This might include making students aware of the positive reasons for choosing Leaving Certificate History. †
Very good levels of individual planning were seen in the course of the inspection. Teachers made their comprehensive planning documentation available to the inspector. A good level of planning for resources was in evidence. Planning is informed by State Examinations Commission (SEC) and Department of Education and Science (DES) documentation. It is noted that teachers have undertaken professional development courses in their own time with the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) to up-skill themselves in Leaving Certificate History. This is commendable.
Good quality teaching and learning was in evidence in the course of the inspection. Lessons opened in all instances with a roll call and correction of homework. In all classrooms visited the lessons had clear aims which were communicated to students at the start of lessons, sometimes orally but more often in writing on the board. This is a commendable strategy that can bring clarity and structure to a lesson. In a minority of cases the teacher made time for review at the lesson end by getting students to recall one thing that they have learned in the lesson. This is very good practice and should be extended to all lessons where practicable. In some instances much of the lesson involved reviewing material already covered in previous lessons and new material was not introduced until towards the end of the lesson. It is recommended that due attention be paid to pace and timing as the lesson progresses.
A good range of teaching methodologies was used to support teaching and learning. Good use was made of pair and group work in all classrooms visited to reinforce learning. For example, in one lesson observed, students were shown a short film clip and asked to complete a short work sheet on the clip in pairs. This is commendable as it promotes collaborative learning. Best practice was observed where the teacher used a variety of methodologies to engage students, including teacher exposition and questioning, individual work and pair or group work. It is recommended that students be given an opportunity in every lesson, where practicable, to direct their own learning and to reflect individually, in pairs or in groups, on the material being covered in the lesson.
There was good attention paid to the inclusion of all students. Teachers were sensitive to the needs of particular students and set differentiated work where relevant. Particular attention was paid to the development of subject-specific terminology in every lesson observed. This is commendable. The use of a crossword in one lesson to reinforce key words and a game in another lesson where the teacher put a number of key words on the board and students were given a few minutes to memorise them and then asked in pairs to come up with the words and their meanings contributed very positively to student participation and enthusiasm.
Teachers had prepared a good range of resources, including teacher produced handouts, to support their teaching. The board was utilised to develop the main points of the class in many lessons inspected. This is good practice. For example in one third-year classroom visited a chart sketched out on the board was a good prompt for the group work that followed on the differences between nationalists, republicans and unionists. Some use was made of classroom posters to further learning. It is recommended that greater use be made of maps when European or World History is being discussed as an aid to student visualisation and understanding.
Good use of ICT was seen in the course of the inspection. A DVD player was used to show a short film clip in one lesson inspected and good use was made of an overhead projector and acetate sheets to show visuals relating to ancient Egypt in another lesson observed. In another classroom visited a data projector was used to show a film clip and PowerPoint presentations.
Good attention was paid to the development of historical skills. The display of a timeline on the wall of one classroom is highly commended as an excellent support to students coming to grips with the second order concept of chronology. Students in another classroom were given practice in document-handling skills with particular attention being paid to the historical concept of interpretation. This is commendable
Interpersonal relations in all classrooms visited were very good. A positive learning environment was created with student project work, maps and historical posters on display in all classrooms visited. Students were engaged with their teachers and knowledgeable about their courses.
A good variety of assessment modes was seen in the course of the inspection. Effective questioning strategies were used in all classrooms visited to assess work covered and build up student understanding. It is suggested that the use of the hands up and wait-time strategy will help to involve the more reticent student. Homework is regularly assigned and frequently monitored in all classrooms visited. Very well-presented copies and notebooks were seen in the course of the inspection. The use of Assessment for Learning strategies, where students are given useful comments on how they can improve their work, was seen in some instances. It is recommended that this be extended to all classes. It is suggested that some students may need additional support to help them organise their work.
Students have formal examinations twice a year. The use of a continuous assessment component as an assessment strategy observed in one case is commended. Students who receive reasonable accommodation in state examinations are offered similar conditions for house examinations. This is good practice. It is recommended that, in cases where there are two class groups in a year group, a common examination paper be prepared.
In recent years management has begun to analyse student performance in the certificate examinations and to compare it to national norms.† This is very good practice. It is recommended that the history department use this data to look at the whole area of student achievement and attainment and to devise strategies to encourage the uptake of higher level History in junior and senior cycle.
Good records are kept of student attainment. Very good procedures are in place to keep parents informed of student progress in this subject. These include school reports, student progress reports which are send to parents twice yearly in the case of first-year students, the school journal, and parent-teacher meetings which take place twice a year for examinations year groups and once a year for other year groups.
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 at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2010