An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Geography
Boherbue Comprehensive School
Roll number: 81009B
Date of inspection: 8 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Geography
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Boherbue Comprehensive School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Geography 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 their teacher and examined students’ work. 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 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.
Geography is well supported within the school. A well-equipped Geography room has been provided, with storage rooms attached. The room is bright and well decorated. Resources to support the teaching of Geography have been gathered over a prolonged period and these are stored, catalogued and used to support the teaching of the subject. The impressive range of resources has been further developed with the installation of an interactive Smart Board that facilitates the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into teaching and learning in Geography. This very significant development also supports the use of Scoilnet Maps, an interactive web-based map and aerial photography resource for Geography. School management is to be commended for the provision of these resources to support geography teaching and learning in the school.
Geography is a core subject for all first-year students but becomes optional at second year and third year. Students are afforded the opportunity to study all subjects on offer in first year and are then required to make choices for Junior Certificate in advance of proceeding to second year. Geography, as a core subject, is allocated just two class periods per week in first year. In second year, all students study a core curriculum including Gaeilge, English, Mathematics, Science, Physical Education, Religious Education, Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE). All other subjects are optional. The lesson allocation for Geography increases to four lessons per week in second year and to five lessons per week in the third year of junior cycle as a consequence of this subject-choice process. Uptake of Geography in second year is low. The school offers a Transition Year (TY) programme as an option in senior cycle. While Geography is offered as a core subject in the programme, just one third of the cohort of students opts for the TY programme. Interestingly, a number of students who have chosen other subjects for Junior Certificate return to study Geography at TY and continue with the subject for Leaving Certificate. Uptake of the subject is low at senior cycle and is significantly below national norms. All geography classes in the school are mixed-ability in nature.
It is a matter of concern that the majority of students in the school complete their geographical education at a young age, normally at the end of their first year of post-primary education. While it is reported by school management that appropriate guidance and consultation with parents informs this choice process, it is of concern that subject choices made at such an early stage in post-primary education could have a significant impact on subject choice at senior cycle and on career paths or access to third-level education. It is therefore recommended that school management consider restructuring the curriculum at junior cycle to widen the range of core subjects to include Geography, History and a modern language as compulsory subjects of all students to Junior Certificate level.
It was clear, in the course of the evaluation, that the teaching of Geography in the school was characterised by significant planning and preparation. It was evident that planning informed learning and teaching practice in the classroom and there was significant planning in place for TY geography and for the geographical investigation which forms the coursework element of the Leaving Certificate syllabus. Whole-school policies dealing with assessment and with health and safety were also reflected in the subject-development planning for Geography. The range of resources, including Ordnance survey (OS) maps, posters, resource packs, videos and DVDs, that are stored in the geography resource room show clearly the extent of planning and preparation in place for Geography. This represents very good practice and is commended.
Individual planning as evident in the observation of lessons was also of very good quality. It was clear from the lessons observed that active-learning methodologies and clear learning outcomes also inform lesson planning. A range of work sheets, tasks, and sketch maps was used to engage students in learning. An overhead projector was also used effectively to illustrate topics for study. These strategies represent very good practice and are commended.
Planning for the subject in first year should be revisited in the context of the current curriculum structure at junior cycle in the school. Given that, within the current structure, a significant number of students end their study of Geography, consideration should be given to the elements of the Junior Certificate syllabus that are studied in first year. It is recommended that a skills-based approach be taken in the first year, and that topics covered should include map-interpretation skills, an understanding of weather and climate including basic synoptic weather charts and a study of environmental issues. This would at least equip students who complete their study of Geography in first year with some key geographical skills for life.
The quality of teaching and learning was very good in the lessons observed. The methodologies adopted reflected good planning and preparation and engaged students actively in their own learning. All lessons began with a review of homework and of previous learning in advance of proceeding to new topics for study. The students were then engaged by direct presentation of key information and this was developed through questioning and through a variety of task-based activities. These included revision of previous learning and knowledge in the context of a discussion of migration, and the use of a world map in a discussion of the impact of plate tectonics on mountain building. In all cases, these tasks had been carefully planned and were supported by detailed sketch maps and task sheets for students. This is very good practice.
As the lessons progressed, inputs from the teacher were balanced with the students’ individual work based on stimulus materials and key points provided by overhead transparencies. Students were constantly monitored as they completed these tasks and were questioned on their progress and on the detail of their responses. Questioning techniques were very good. The depth of the questions was well considered given the mixed-ability nature of the class groups. Students were named, encouraged and affirmed in their answering. Questions were appropriately balanced between lower-order factually-based questions and higher-order questions demanding deeper analysis and examination of the topic. This is very good practice and is commended. In all cases, the rapport and atmosphere was positive, purposeful and courteous, resulting in an effective learning environment.
All the lessons observed were well paced and structured around clear learning outcomes that arose from previous learning and reflected the relevant syllabus. It was clear that these outcomes were largely achieved and that learning was taking place in lessons.
A good focus on assessment of learning was visible at all levels of classroom practice for Geography. Lessons began with a review of previous learning. Questioning and prompting of students was used to gauge and to advance learning. The learning outcomes approach ensured that the lessons were well paced and that students had time to absorb and understand the concepts under discussion. All lessons ended with the provision of appropriate homework and manageable homework tasks to support learning. This represents good practice.
Assessment processes in geography lessons reflect the whole-school assessment policy. All first-year geography class groups sit a common assessment in advance of the subject-choice process. This is good practice. Class tests and other assessment provide an overall performance grade for students in the first and second term of first year, second year and fourth year. These year groups sit class-based examinations at Christmas and more formal examinations in an examination hall setting at the end of the summer term. Students, in preparation for Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate sit formal examinations at Christmas and pre-examinations at an appropriate time in the second term. Reports on performance in these examinations are communicated to parents through school reports, and parent-teacher meetings are organised at appropriate times during the school year. These whole-school assessment procedures are in line with good practice.
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, January 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
School Management will consider restructuring the curriculum for Junior Cycle to widen the range of core subjects, taking into account staffing allocation and our desire to offer a broad range of subjects to our students in a stand-alone rural school.
The programme for study in First Year will include a more skills-based approach as recommended.