An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of History
Holy Family Secondary School
Newbridge, Co. Kildare
Roll number: 61682A
Date of inspection: 11 November 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in History
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Holy Family Secondary School, Newbridge. 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 deputy principal. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
History has a high profile in Holy Family Secondary School and is well supported by management. There is very good curricular provision for History across all years and programmes. Junior cycle classes have three periods of History per week. In Transition Year (TY), students undertake an interesting and varied history programme and have two periods of History per week over the whole year. This is very satisfactory. At Leaving Certificate level, students have five periods of History per week. This is in line with syllabus guidelines. Timetabling is very good with a good spread of lessons across the week and between morning and afternoon periods.
There are very good arrangements in place for student access to the subject and uptake levels are healthy at senior cycle. At Leaving Certificate level, students are well supported when choosing their optional subjects. They meet individually with the guidance counsellor, get advice from subject teachers and are given an information booklet about subject choice. They have open access to the subject with option lines being prepared afterwards to accord with student choice. This is best practice.
Provision of resources for this subject is very satisfactory. While there is no fixed budget for the subject, management is open to providing resources on a needs basis. Teachers store some resources in their classrooms and others are stored in a central resource area. It is recommended that these resources be catalogued and the inventory included in the school plan and updated where necessary. All classrooms visited were well equipped with adequate storage, a TV and DVD player and some with newly installed data projectors and computers. Some history classes are regularly timetabled for the computer room/library. This is good practice. The provision of a number of history notice boards around the school is highly commended as it raises the profile of the subject in the school.
There is very good support from management for a range of extracurricular, co-curricular and cross-curricular activities. History field trips and visits to the local library are facilitated. This is commendable.
School management is supportive of continuous professional development (CPD) for teachers. Members of the history teaching team have attended the in-service training provided by the History In-Service Team (HIST) to facilitate the introduction of the revised Leaving Certificate syllabus. The staff have also availed of a school-based in-service session from a member of the HIST team. The commitment on the part of management and staff to continuous professional development is commendable
Very good department planning is in evidence in the school. A history co-ordinator is in place. The position is rotated amongst department members, which is good practice. Meetings are held regularly. Minutes of meetings show discussion on a range of issues relevant to the subject including the analysis of results, assessment strategies and the uptake of History at senior cycle. This is good practice. The minutes also show that the department has examined previous History inspection reports and the Looking at History report. This shows a commendable level of reflective practice in the department. The department is highly commended for working with a local environmental group to put together an innovative oral and local history element for their TY programme.
The department folder contains a range of relevant documents including aims and objectives for history teaching, curricular planning and organisational details. Very good planning for students with additional educational needs is noted and commended. Indeed, two members of the learning support and resource team are also history teachers, which enables good communication in relation to relevant support for students.
To progress the work of the history department further, it is recommended that the history department spend some time discussing teaching and learning for different year groups, linking methodologies and resources to subject content. It is also recommended that the learning outcomes for first-year and second-year history contained in the folder be re-visited and adapted to concur with the content of the junior cycle syllabus.
A good level of informal collaboration between members of the department is noted and commended. To develop this good work further, it is recommended that electronic resources be pooled in a folder and placed on the school’s intranet system.
There was evidence of very good planning for co-curricular, cross-curricular and extracurricular activities. The provision of history field trips is well-integrated into department planning. The department is to be highly commended for devising a field trip policy which allows for a very structured approach to history field trips. Very good cross-curricular planning was in evidence across the school but particularly in the TY programme where other subject departments have introduced elements that compliment the TY history programme. In relation to co-curricular planning, the department is to be applauded for the very good links that they have forged with the local library.
Very good quality teaching and learning was seen in the majority of classrooms visited. A good level of individual planning was in evidence in most lessons observed. Students settled down to work quickly in all lessons and a high degree of student attention and engagement with the material being covered was in evidence throughout the course of the inspection. In the majority of lessons observed, the lesson topic was written up on the board at the start of the lesson. This is good practice. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons.
Good pace and timing were seen in many lessons observed. Where best practice was observed, the teacher used a variety of methodologies and resources to advance the lesson, ensured the students were active in their own learning and made time for review at the end. For example, in a senior cycle lesson on Stalin’s five-year plans, the teacher introduced the lesson, linked the topic to prior learning with the use of questioning, used acetates, a historical poster and a film clip to build understanding of the period, got students to work individually on a worksheet relating to the film clip and ended by reviewing material covered in the lesson. In some of the lessons observed, there was an imbalance between teacher talk and student activity and students were not given time to reflect on their own learning. At times, active learning opportunities were introduced too late in the lesson to allow time for their completion. It is suggested that due attention needs to be paid to pace and timing as the lesson proceeds in some instances. Furthermore, it is recommended that students are encouraged to be active in their own learning, that independent or group-learning opportunities are built into every lesson where practicable, and that teachers make time for review at the end of lessons.
A good range of resources was used in all lessons observed to support student learning. These resources included acetates, photographs, posters, worksheets, film clips and magazine covers. Good use was made of the board in many lessons, not only to introduce the topic and layout of the lesson, but also to introduce key words and phrases. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classrooms. An emphasis on the use of visual material was seen in all lessons inspected. These strategies are commendable as they allow for a broad range of learning styles. For example, in one junior cycle lesson, photographs from World War II were used to develop students’ understanding of rationing and evacuees. Good use of information and communications technology (ICT) was seen in some classrooms. In one classroom visited, the teacher used a PowerPoint presentation, with some very good use of visuals, to review student knowledge about Martin Luther. In the context of the new data projectors currently being installed in many classrooms, it is recommended that teachers investigate strategies to extend their use of ICT in the classroom.
An emphasis on local and family history was seen in many classrooms visited. A TY lesson opened with students reporting back on interviews about the 1960s that they had completed with family members. The teacher then showed students an old school photograph from the period and finished by showing students a short film clip of Newbridge in the 1960s. These activities were supported by a commendable emphasis on self-directed learning, including individual and pair work. In another classroom visited, the teacher used a local focus, a memoir on Newbridge during the war years, to introduce students to the Emergency. These emphases are highly commended as they add to student participation and enjoyment.
In all classrooms visited, students were co-operative with their teachers and good teacher-pupil rapport was seen. In some classrooms, students were encouraged to take notes as the lesson progressed. This is good practice. Classrooms were well decorated with subject-specific materials and student projects and, in one instance, by the display of clothes and uniforms from different historical periods. This added to the historical ambience of the rooms.
Very good modes of assessment were in evidence across all years and programmes. Very good use of questioning was seen in many lessons to review material already covered, to contextualise the material to be covered and to promote higher-order thinking. In some classrooms visited, the use of history projects and history quizzes to assess learning was in evidence. This is good practice. The use of self-assessment strategies, oral presentations and portfolio work, as seen in TY lessons, is highly commended and accords well with TY philosophy. Homework is given regularly and frequently monitored in most instances. The use of formative assessment strategies, where students are given direction as to how their work could be improved, was seen in the majority of classrooms visited. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classrooms.
Good formal assessment modes are in place in the school. End-of-topic tests are used to review material in many classes. The use of common examinations, with marking schemes agreed in advance, is applauded. Teachers are to be commended for the clear lay-out and visual content used in formal examination papers seen during the course of the inspection. The use of a continuous assessment component for the research study report in the fifth-year end-of-year examination is praiseworthy. In one case at junior cycle, the material covered to date was considerably less than that agreed in the department plan for the relevant time period. To ensure that all students are properly prepared for the common examinations, which are elements of current good practice in the school, it is recommended that the course material is covered by all teachers at the pace agreed in the department plan.
There was good awareness in the department of students’ performance in certificate examinations. Good preparation for certificate examinations was observed in many classrooms visited, where relevant. It is commendable that students are encouraged to achieve at the highest level possible.
Teachers keep very good records of class tests and term examinations, building a profile of student progress. The school communicates with parents by means of the student journal, parent-teacher meetings and school reports, which are sent to students’ homes twice a year in most year groups, more often for certificate examinations 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 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