An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Biology
Coláiste Phádraig CBS,
Roselawn, Lucan, Co. Dublin
Roll number: 60264A
Date of inspection: 15 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection Report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Phádraig, Roselawn, Lucan, Co. Dublin. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Biology 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 subject teachers. 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.
The evaluation of Leaving Certificate Biology at Coláiste Phádraig was carried out over the course of two days. It commenced with a meeting with the teachers of Biology. At this meeting, the objectives and procedures of the evaluation were explained. Following this, two single fifth-year Biology classes and a single and a double sixth-year Biology class were observed.
Junior Certificate Science is a core subject for the three years of junior cycle. All Science classes are streamed. Class groups are based on the results of an entrance examination for new first-year students, on aptitude testing and on information received from primary school teachers. Provision is made to allow some movement of students between streams, following further assessment before Halloween of first year.
First-year Science classes are allocated four class periods each week, in the form of one double and two single periods. This increases to five periods for second and third-year students, in the form of one double and three single periods. The number of class periods is within syllabus guidelines for first-year students and greater than syllabus guidelines for second and third-year students. Timetabling arrangements are such that a maximum of 24 students are permitted in a laboratory class while theory classes may contain greater numbers on occasion.
The school is currently offering Biology, Chemistry and Physics as optional subjects to Leaving Certificate level. Students are provided with the opportunity to choose their own subjects for senior cycle. These choices are then used to create a “best-fit” model of subject options, accommodating as many students as possible. Biology is the most popular of the three science-related subjects. Biology students are allocated one double period and three single periods each week. This is within syllabus guidelines. There is a maximum class size of 24 students.
There are six teachers of science subjects in the school. Two of these teachers are currently teaching Biology. All opportunities have been availed of to release teachers for continuing professional development during recent and current national in-service training programmes in the physical sciences, Biology and Junior Certificate Science. Management is commended on the commitment given to facilitate attendance at in-service training.
The school actively promotes student involvement in science-related co- and extra-curricular activities including, for example, the Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, ecology fieldwork visits and participation in the Irish Science Olympiad.
The school has four science laboratories. Two of these are of very recent construction and are modern, well equipped facilities, with a shared storage and preparation area. The other two are older and also share a storage and preparation area. It is envisaged that they will be refurbished in the medium term. A demonstration room is also available. These rooms are used exclusively for science classes and most science classes take place in a laboratory. Resources observed include an overhead projector and wall charts. The learning environment could be further enhanced by displays of student work, for example charts and reports of ecology project work, which would be motivating to students and also serve to reinforce learning.
A range of health and safety equipment was observed, including first aid kits, fire extinguishers, fire blankets, fume cupboards and gas isolation switches. A health and safety statement that was drawn up some years ago is due to be replaced by a new statement currently under preparation. Science teachers are being consulted as part of this process and it is intended that the new statement will be reviewed every two years.
The school is actively engaged in the process of school development planning and has engaged with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). School policies are in place in a number of areas. A total of six policies are currently under review, including the health and safety policy, the admissions policy and the critical incidents policy. The duties of post-holders were reviewed last year also. There is a short induction procedure in place for new and trainee teachers.
The Science team do not have a formal department structure. Co-ordination, curriculum planning, laboratory sharing and other issues of immediate concern are managed informally through frequent informal and casual meetings. A post of responsibility has been created to manage laboratory stock control and ordering of equipment and consumable items. Teachers have expressed satisfaction at the level of funding received both from within the school and from the Department of Education and Science.
Long-term curriculum plans, where presented, tended to be of a broad nature. More detailed term-based planning is needed. Long-term plans should include a detailed list of coursework topics, the intended allocation of time to each topic, a list of practical activities associated with each topic and a list of resources to be used in teaching each topic. Teaching and learning methodologies should always be included in order to ensure that teachers do not unwittingly restrict themselves to a preferred dominant style of teaching and to ensure that material is taught in a manner appropriate to the material itself and to the students being taught. Detailed curriculum planning and co-ordination is a necessary precursor to the introduction of common tests for all classes in a year group. Further helpful advice is available on the School Development Planning Initiative website, www.sdpi.ie.
In order to facilitate laboratory management and curricular planning is recommended that teachers and management give consideration to putting a more formal Science department structure in place.
In the classes observed there was evidence of short term planning. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter of their lessons and there was a theme running through each lesson. Materials necessary for classes had been prepared in advance. This preparation contributed to the quality of learning and is praiseworthy.
In all classes visited, good discipline was apparent. Rapport with students was good and this is to be commended. Teachers were enthusiastic, warm, patient and considerate of students. Teachers demonstrated a professional and business-like approach to work. The level of two-way communication in classrooms was relevant to the task in hand. Students were attentive, interested and anxious to participate in the learning process. Lessons observed were purposeful and good progress was made in all classes visited. The topics covered in the classes observed included human circulation, plant reproduction, the alimentary canal and osmosis.
A range of teaching methodologies was observed, including student practical work, the use of OHP transparencies, board work, questioning, explanations and student written work. Lessons were well planned, well structured, and had a clear focus. The pacing of lessons was good, students were kept busy and actively engaged at all times, and changes in methodologies were built into lesson plans as appropriate. Students were challenged by lesson content and responded well. Continuity from previous lessons was good and new information was well linked to previous learning. There was good direction and follow through in the lessons observed. This is excellent practice.
Some very effective use of questioning as a methodology was observed. Directing questions to individual students for a response is a very useful means of encouraging all students to engage actively in a lesson and the frequent inclusion of higher-order questions encourages students to think at a deeper level, to analyse information as well as simply trying to remember it. This is good practice and teachers should be conscious of making maximum use of this methodology.
Appropriate use of the black- or white-board is also a very effective tool in the teaching and learning process. The board can be used to highlight and reinforce new words, concepts and key points in the course of a lesson as well as summarising lesson content at the end of class. Properly used, it can also reduce dependence on the textbook during a lesson. It is recommended that teachers make greater use of the board, as appropriate, during lessons.
During the observed student practical work the students worked in groups of two or three. It was obvious from their behaviour and mature approach to their work that the students were accustomed to carrying out practical work and the science teachers are to be praised for their commitment to giving students the opportunity to carry out practical work themselves. A very good plenary session was held in the laboratory before the practical work was started in order to prepare students for their work. Both a handout and OHP transparencies were used to inform and assist students, to good effect. This is commendable.
Teacher movement among the students, assisting, examining and encouraging, was evident during practical work. More teacher movement down among the students, in particular during the less activity-based lessons, would also help to sustain student interest in and application to work and give the teacher more of an indication of the level of student achievement. Teachers should be conscious of not becoming over dependent on textbooks during these lessons. Teachers were very affirming of student effort and were always encouraging and positive in correcting students with appropriate interventions. Homework given was appropriate to the lesson material and was designed to assist the student in learning and retaining the topic.
The excellent practice of making students aware of the objectives of a lesson at the beginning of a class period was observed in one class. The lesson objectives were clear and concise and were achieved. This is motivating to students as well as giving a sense of purpose and direction to classroom work. It can encourage a degree of self-assessment by students within the class and help individual students to monitor their own progress. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons.
Students demonstrated a positive attitude towards Biology as evidenced by the level of engagement and interest observed during their lessons. Most students displayed a good level of knowledge, understanding and skills during interaction with the inspector. Formative assessment of students is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class.
Students kept laboratory notebooks up to date as evidence of practical work being carried out. This is a very important aspect of new and revised syllabuses in Science. While the quality of some of the notebooks was excellent, some others were of a lesser quality, and overall there was quite a large variation. It is recommended that teachers check and annotate laboratory notebooks on a regular basis. This is an excellent means of encouraging students and of pointing the way towards improvement.
All classes are assessed by means of a Christmas examination. Formal assessments are held for non-examination classes in the summer. Questions on mandatory practical work are included in these examinations. In addition, the certificate examination classes sit mock examinations in the spring. These scripts are marked externally. Additional testing is at the discretion of individual teachers. Records of assessment are held in teachers’ own diaries, in report books and on computer in the school office.
Results of assessment tests and progress reports are communicated to parents by means of Christmas and summer reports and also at parent-teacher meetings, held once per year for each class. Five such meetings each year are held in accordance with Department of Education and Science regulations. Parents are also encouraged to contact the school if they have any concerns regarding their children’s progress.
Record keeping by teachers was excellent, and covered areas such as student attendance, attainment and work covered. This is praiseworthy. Such information can be used to build up student profiles and can form the basis of very useful evidence in communicating student progress to parents and in advising both students and parents on their choice of subjects at senior level and on what level of examination paper to choose in certificate examinations.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 teachers of Biology and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.