An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics and Science
Holy Child School
Military Road, Killiney, County Dublin
Roll number: 60250M
Date of inspection: 9 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Holy Child School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physics and Science and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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/subject teachers. The board of management 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 to this report.
Science is a core subject at Holy Child School, Killiney. Classes are of mixed ability. Class groups generally retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle. The vast majority of students are encouraged and supported to take Science at higher level. This is commended. First-year Science class groups are quite large. It is recommended that measures be considered to moderate class size in first year.
Third-year students are advised on subject choice by the guidance counsellor and subject specialist teachers. A letter is sent to parents outlining the subject option blocks. Biology, Chemistry and Physics are offered in separate blocks. Each student must choose at least one senior Science subject for the Leaving Certificate. This is commended.
The Transition Year programme (TYP) is mandatory in the school. Students are asked to choose their Leaving Certificate subjects before Transition Year (TY) has commenced. They are allowed flexibility to change subjects within the option blocks. However, it is recommended that students get “taster subjects” in TY so that they can make an informed choice for the Leaving Certificate. School management should refer to Circular M1/00 which states “A Transition Year Programme is not part of the Leaving Certificate Programme and should not be seen as an opportunity for spending three years rather than two studying Leaving Certificate material”.
Uptake of senior Science subjects is high with one class group in fifth and sixth year in each of Physics and Chemistry and three class groups in Biology. There is a strong tradition of Science in the school. Almost all students take their chosen senior Science subjects at higher level. This is commended.
The time allocation to the Science subjects is satisfactory. Teachers expressed the wish to have an additional period allocated to first-year Science. There is no double class period allocated to Science subjects in TY. It is recommended that consideration be given to the timetabling of a double period to facilitate practical and project work. In addition it is recommended that more innovative project work and modules be developed or adopted as part of the TY Science programme. Access to the laboratories is good for double periods and teachers are commended on the co-operative approach adopted to facilitate access.
There are four teachers in the Science department in the school all of which teach junior Science. They keep themselves updated and upskilled with the revised Science syllabus by attending the junior Science inservice programme. Some teachers have participated in other courses including courses on health and safety in school laboratories and datalogging courses. This is commended.
There are two Science laboratories in the school with a shared preparation/storage area. Some refurbishment work has been carried out in preparation for the introduction of the revised junior Science syllabus. This is commended. It is recommended that laboratory facilities be further enhanced particularly with regard to gas, electricity and fume-hoods. It is commendable that the board of management has recently approved the provision of a third laboratory.
The school has a health and safety statement which was updated in November 2005. It is recommended that a more extensive health and safety statement be drawn up. The laboratories have in evidence safety equipment including fire extinguishers, fire blankets and first aid kits.
Computers and a data projector are available in the Science laboratories. Datalogging equipment is available and it is used in some practical investigations in Physics and to demonstrate Physics’ principles. Broadband internet access is not currently available in the Science laboratories but it is planned in the future. It is reported that some teachers take their class groups to the computer room.
Various subject departments including Science submit their plan to the principal at the beginning of the school year. Science department meetings are informal. Items discussed at these meetings include methodologies relating to the revised syllabus, sharing of new ideas and approaches, co-ordinating the efficient use of laboratories and resources and the planned acquisition of new resources. This is commended.
There is no current Science co-ordinator. It is recommended that a Science co-ordinator be appointed on an annual rotating basis so that department planning can be more streamlined. In addition it is recommended that more formalised planning meetings take place. These meetings should be minuted, have an agreed agenda, with minutes relayed to school management.
There is good planning in place. Subject plans are in evidence for Science and Physics. There is an agreed junior Science scheme of work for first year and second year. This scheme outlines student learning outcomes and resources and is cross-referenced to the syllabus. The Science department has an agreed plan which clearly outlines the aims, learning strategies, resources, assessment and homework policy. The subject plan for Physics includes subject aims, time allocation, subject selection, assessment and homework policy, learning strategies, resources, ICT, health and safety and record keeping. A clear subject plan for Transition Year, fifth and sixth-year Physics was in evidence. The work of the teachers in this regard is highly commended.
It is recommended that the Science plan be further extended over time to include items such as the take-up of senior Science subjects, Science co-ordination, best practice, common assessment and agreed learning outcomes.
There was very good advance planning of the lessons observed. Practical equipment, worksheets and handouts were ready in advance and as a result teaching and learning were enhanced. This is commended.
Students were motivated, encouraged and sufficiently challenged to reach their full potential. A very good rapport existed in all classes which created a strong atmosphere of learning. Students were generally addressed by name and an atmosphere of mutual respect existed. Participation levels in class were very good. There was constant affirmation and support for students. Expert and individual attention was given by teachers as they circulated. The work of the teachers is highly commended.
Each lesson observed was well thought out and had a clear structure. Some lessons concentrated mainly on revision. There was an example where students were revising atomic structure. This involved the concepts of ionic and covalent bonding which were clearly explained with the aid of the blackboard. Having been assigned various groups of the periodic table, students acted out for the whole class the formation of certain molecules. This was very effective. A revision and a summary sheet were distributed to reaffirm the material revised and as an aid to the assignment of homework. There was another example where very clear and effective examination guidance was given to students. The work of teachers in this regard is commended.
In most lessons the blackboard/whiteboard were used effectively to highlight key concepts, to introduce topics and to summarise at the conclusion of the lesson. There was an example where students were revising the parts of the microscope. The main parts were highlighted on the blackboard and their functions were explained with clarity. There was another example where there were very clear explanations of mathematical problems carried out with the aid of the whiteboard. In some lessons more effective use of methodologies would have enhanced the lessons and lead to greater participation levels by the entire class group. It is recommended that greater use be made of group-work, worksheets and ICT in some lessons.
There was effective use of questioning in all lessons observed. Specific questions were asked about previously learned material and more open-ended probing questions were used to stimulate student interest. There was an example where energy was being discussed. Students came up with very good responses to various questions regarding the advantages and disadvantages of various forms of energy. These key responses were highlighted on the whiteboard for future reference. Many questions were asked by the students and these questions were answered skilfully and in some cases were extended to the whole class for general discussion.
Investigative practical work formed part of some lessons observed. There was a clear emphasis on health and safety. Students worked collaboratively and each group received continuous and comprehensive help and support. A sense of motivation existed and a good environment for learning and teaching prevailed. There were opportunities during class revision to demonstrate some previously used apparatus and methods and it is recommended that such practices be followed in order to consolidate learning.
In many lessons observed Science and Physics were linked effectively with everyday life. There were commendable examples where the social problems caused by the Chernobyl nuclear accident were discussed and where oil refining was discussed in the context of fractional distillation.
Formal examinations take place at Christmas and summer. Third-year and sixth-year students sit ‘mock’ examinations in mid-February. Continuous assessment takes place in the form of regular class tests. There is ongoing assessment and revision by means of class questioning. Students were generally confident at answering questions on their work during the lessons observed.
The practical notebooks were generally of a high standard with good quality work recorded. It was evident that teachers had checked the quality of the notebooks. It is recommended that the practical notebooks be annotated with useful comments for improvement and affirmation of work well done. It is important that there is a follow up process to ensure that corrections are completed. In addition it is recommended that teachers give credit for practical work completed and recorded in school assessments. This would encourage better standards and would reflect the aims and objectives of the revised Science syllabus.
Homework was assigned at the conclusion of all lessons observed. This consisted of for example the completion of a worksheet, assignment of mathematical problems or the preparation of a report following some research. This is commended.
Reports are sent to parents for first-year, second year, fifth-year and Transition Year students following the formal examinations at Christmas and summer. Third-year and sixth-year students have reports sent home after the ‘mock’ examinations. In addition, term assessment reports are completed and sent to parents at October mid-term and in mid-March. A special report sheet on the modular options is completed for Transition Year students. In addition Transition Year project and practical work are monitored. There is a parent teacher meeting for each year group annually.
Students from Holy Child School have participated in many co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. These activities include visits to W5 in Belfast, the Institute of Physics Tyndall lectures and participation in the BT Young Scientists Competition. Physics and Chemistry Transition Year students have prepared a ‘Science magic show’ for presentation to primary school classes as part of Science Week activities. This work is highly commended.
Students generally have a good level of attainment in Science and Physics. Students in their interactions with the inspector demonstrated a good level of knowledge and responded with confidence demonstrating not only an understanding of the lesson content but also a striving towards improvement.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
The Physics and Science teachers in Holy Child School show enthusiasm and commitment. Their dedication and professionalism is crucial in driving the development of Physics and Science in the school.
Good planning is shown in the co-operative approach to issues.
The lessons observed were in general well planned with a clear structure, delivered at a pace appropriate to the students and presented and designed to facilitate the active involvement of all pupils in learning.
The practical work was well organised with an emphasis on an investigative approach to learning.
Assessment of students both formally and informally was carried out on an on-going basis.
Discipline was sensitively maintained and a good teacher-student rapport existed in all classes observed.
The school provides a caring and supportive learning environment.
There is good whole school support for Physics and Science. Physics, Chemistry and Biology are available to Leaving Certificate students.
Teachers are encouraged and facilitated in attending in-service.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
Measures should be considered to moderate class size in first-year Science classes.
Students should get “taster subjects” in Transition Year so that they can make an informed choice for the Leaving Certificate.
Consideration should be given to the timetabling of a double period in Science subjects in Transition Year to facilitate practical and project work. More innovative project work and modules should be developed or adopted as part of the Transition Year Science programme.
Laboratory facilities should be further enhanced particularly with regard to gas, electricity and fume-hoods.
A more extensive health and safety statement should be drawn up.
A Science co-ordinator should be appointed on an annual rotating basis. Minuted formalised planning meetings should take place.
The Science plan should be further extended over time to include items such as the take-up of senior Science subjects, Science co-ordination, best practice, common assessment and agreed learning outcomes.
Greater use should be made of group-work, worksheets and ICT in some lessons.
Opportunities should be taken during some revision lessons to demonstrate some previously used apparatus and methods in order to consolidate learning.
The practical notebooks should be annotated with useful comments for improvement and affirmation of work well done. It is important that there is a follow up process and that teachers give credit for practical work completed and recorded in school assessments.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Physics and Science at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
We wish to acknowledge receipt of the draft report of the Physics and Science inspection. We are pleased that you found the teaching, learning and organisation of science to be a high standard. We wish to thank the Inspectors for their courtesy, suggestions and advice during the inspection which we found both worthwhile and beneficial.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The science teachers welcome the recommendations made by the inspectors and are committed to addressing them. In particular, they will further increase their use of ICT technology in the form of power point slides and data logging.
They will continue to expand their interesting and stimulating TY modules, such as, Aspirin/Pharmaceutical Developments and Practical Electronics.
There is a high level of uptake of all science subjects in the school, however, the school will consider the 'taster subject' approach suggested. Science subject meetings are being held frequently.