Quality Mark Case Study: The Mount School

Quality Mark Example

Hello, I am Helen Snelson and I take the lead on History at The Mount School in York. We are far from a typical school (if such a thing actually exists) being independent, Quaker and all girls. However, we teach a range of abilities to GCSE and A level, including children with learning support needs.

At Key Stage 3 we follow the National Curriculum and we have extensive experience of state school teaching. We value hugely the networks and partnerships we have with other subject specialists across the City of York and nationally, through organisations such as the Historical Association. Our attitude is very much that we are learning all the time how to get better at being history educators.

Our experience of the History Quality Mark process was very positive. We will honestly say that it did take some time, but having now been through the whole process we would say ‘stick at it!' We have thought further about our practice and benefitted from the conversations we have had about history education between ourselves and with the assessor. We are happy to share anything about the process that you think would be helpful for you.

The first thing we had to do was carry out an audit of the current state of history in our school:

1. Teaching & learning

The lesson observation and talking to students will bring this section into focus for your assessor. We tried to put things in our portfolio which we knew would set the scene for what would be seen in the classroom. Encouraging further independence and resilience in all our learners is a current focus for our department and we tried to demonstrate this.

2. Leadership

This will vary depending on the size of your department. Don't be tempted to think of leadership as just managing people, or of structures as rigid things. Ask yourself what you are doing to lead history education in your school, your local area, and more widely.

3. Curriculum

We are always debating the coherence, logic and appropriateness of our history curriculum. We are always being inspired and challenged by other colleagues to adapt and develop our thinking. Our aim was to be very honest with the assessor about how we are always learning ourselves.

4. Achievement

We regard timely and individual conversations with learners about their progression as the gold standard. Of course, it is often not practicable to do that and feedback is often written. However, by keeping in mind that it is crucial to know an individual learner and know what progression means in our subject, we are trying to find our way through the minefield of assessment to ensure achievement. Above all we want them to love History and we will not teach to the test.

5. Enrichment

We want to share our passion and curiosity for History with all our students. We want to understand them better as learners and to see them outside the classroom whenever possible. We work really hard to build local, national and international contacts that will provide enrichment opportunities for our students. The rewards far outweigh the time investment.

Thoughts on the QM Process

Some thoughts on the QM process and documentation from The Mount School

The online process: It is very easy to load up docs online. It will be inevitable that the best written criteria will still leave questions in some minds. One is always trying to work out a mindset behind them when putting evidence together and, as historians know (and being historians!), things can be interpreted in so many ways. The criteria look easy to interpret to us now! We think the idea of having a sample portfolio up there will help. It's another way of explaining. We found it quite tricky to find one piece of evidence to hit a point, but think it is important to leave the one piece as a standard. It took us about three full working days equivalent to do the audit and load up the evidence.

The admin: was excellently administered and we'd like to log a BIG think you for that!

The assessment, including visit: We hadn't grasped that the idea was to only visit people who were pretty sure to get something. Probably we missed it in the info, but that does mean others could too. Our assessors were very keen to stress it was not an Ofsted in tone. Obviously we think it's inevitable that an external assessment feels just like that - even if the assessors smile!

We've come at it a rather different way. In cash strapped schools, what is in it for the schools? Many things and we would emphasise even more the network and partnership opportunities, which will grow as the QM spreads. In York we are grumpy about the threat to our strong partnerships and working hard to preserve what we can. We think QM can help. We also think all history departments should be in networks even if all don't!

Other things we want to shout about

Following the organisation by The Mount School History Department for 24 students from 9 schools across York to take part in the IWM's Their Past Your Future visit to Berlin in 2009, we gained a partner school just east of Berlin through UK German-Connection. We have built up this partnership since then and done joint projects in Berlin and York between Phillip-Melancthon Gymnasium, Mount and Millthorpe Schools.

Projects have included:

  • ‘Significance in European history' a project focused upon what should be regarded as significant enough to be taught in all European schools.
  • ‘Pride and Prejudice' exploring identities and how far they are based in the past (identities of nations, cities, people) - for this project we had a UK-German Connection Challenge Fund grant.
  • ‘Remember? Remember!' a project looking at how and why we remember, case studying: 5th November (UK), 9th November (Ger) and 11th November (UK and beyond)
  • ‘Why Europe?' a project focusing on Europe from historical, political and economic perspectives.

We are currently developing our plans for 2014-15 around ideas of ‘Powerful voices in the early 20th century'. A project group open to all interested students will work each week after school throughout the Autumn term and then we will host the PMG students in York over a weekend at the end of November.

You can see lots of reports and other information about the projects online via our Facebook page

These projects not only benefit the immediate participants each year. They also inspire the staff and materials produced have been adapted and reused for York ISSP masterclasses and in history lessons.

See also The Mount School History Department blog - providing evidence for many criteria; regularly updated.

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