An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Saint Joseph’s Secondary School
Rush, County Dublin
Roll number: 60343 T
Date of inspection: 16 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Joseph’s Secondary School, Rush. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Biology 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 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 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.
Science is well supported in St Josephs Secondary School. The Science department contains two laboratories and a shared storage and preparation area. The Science laboratories are tidy and well organised with good displays of colourful charts and student generated posters on the walls and notice boards. The preparation room contains a lockable store in which chemicals are organised on the shelves. Toxic and flammable chemicals are stored in appropriate cabinets. All Science classes are held in a laboratory, time allocation is appropriate and there is a good spread of double and single classes throughout the week. This is good practice.
The Science team have benefited from opportunities for continuing professional development during national in-service training in the revised Biology and Junior Science syllabuses. Management are to be commended for their commitment to facilitating this in-service and for their on-going consideration in supporting staff training needs.
Science is an optional subject to Junior Certificate and uptake is appropriate. The school offers Transition Year annually but there was not sufficient uptake to provide the programme in the 2006 senior cycle. The programmes on offer at senior cycle include the traditional Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied programme. Biology is the most popular of the senior cycle Sciences and uptake is good. Physics and Chemistry are offered annually and there is currently one Physics class in fifth year and one Chemistry class in sixth year.
The Science department actively promote the sciences within the school and encourage participation in a wide range of co-curricular activities that foster interest and initiative. Members of the Science team have been involved as star teachers with the Science Foundation of Ireland based in DCU Biomedical Diagnostics Group. Links have been retained with this group and students are periodically brought to the centre. Groups of students have also been brought to Killarney National Park on a field studies course for a weekend and currently the Science department have planned to bring a group of students on an ecology course held in Wicklow National Park. Students have entered for the BT Young Scientist competition and on a local level the Science department organised a Science quiz for Science week this year. Science teachers have organised trips to DCU for Open days and to the Tyndall lectures in the RDS as well as liasing with the school-based arts festival, Dochas. The Junior Science students have also benefited from an electronics club which was run after school hours. These activities are to be commended and the teachers involved are to be congratulated for their commitment, without which the students would not benefit from such stimulating experiences.
Planning in the Science department is in the initial stages and it is commendable that management have facilitated the planning process by the provision of time for formal departmental meetings. Frequent informal meetings allow further co-ordination within the Science department and promote good communication between the team. It is praiseworthy that drafts plans for Leaving Certificate Biology and Junior Certificate Science have been drawn up collaboratively, based on the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) framework. An outline for the construction of more comprehensive collaborative planning in the Science department was discussed during the course of the evaluation. It is recommended that the Science team outline a list of topics, appropriately sequenced and syllabus-based, for each year of Junior Certificate Science and a similar list for Senior cycle Biology. This list should also include the relevant mandatory practical work to be completed in each year of both Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology. It is further suggested that the relevant lists be distributed to Junior Certificate Science or Leaving Certificate Biology students to assist them in their planning and revision. Long-term syllabus based plans can then be developed from these lists of topics and appropriately outlined according to SDPI templates.
Short-term planning was good and evidenced in the development of individual lesson plans and the preparation of worksheets, resources and materials to be used in class. This level of preparation served to augment the overall quality of teaching and learning in the lessons observed.
Classrooms visited during the evaluation included classes from both Junior and Senior cycle in the school. Lessons observed were clear and well structured and covered a range of topics including the effect of exercise on the heart rate, digestive activity during germination, classification of substances as elements, compounds and mixtures and testing for hard water.
A range of abilities were present in the classrooms visited and it is commendable that Science teachers adopted varying methodologies to suit the needs of the pupils. These methodologies included group work, paired work, use of the white board, use of the overhead projector, teacher demonstration, worksheets and use of the data projector displaying animations, Lessons were pitched at a level which was appropriate to the needs of the students and teacher movement around the classroom ensured all pupils were on task and engaged in the lesson.
Practical work was observed in a number of lessons and students worked with due regard for health and safety regulations. Safety regulations for the laboratory were posted on the notice boards in both laboratories and it is suggested that the Science team distribute these to students to incorporate into their Science notebooks.
Good practice was observed where a plenary session was used to introduce the lesson topic. Students were encouraged to discuss potential procedures to be used and the applications of the procedure were related to students’ everyday lives. This helps make science relevant to the students and is praiseworthy. Good routines were observed in practical classes where students were clearly confident in working as a team, in setting up apparatus and clearing it away on conclusion of the lesson. The development of such practices is commendable as it helps to develop student autonomy and also assists in the pacing of the lesson. During the course of the evaluation process the inspector questioned a number of students on the task in hand and students responded confidently and enthusiastically. They presented as happy and interested in the topic while displaying varying abilities, reflecting the mixed ability grouping of the class.
Broadband internet access planned for the school and the Science team are encouraged to explore its potential for development of new teaching aids and enhancement of teaching and learning in Science and Biology in the school.
A range of assessment techniques is in evidence in St Joseph’s Secondary School. Class tests are held regularly for all students, usually when sections of the syllabus have been completed. Formal examinations are held for all 3rd and 6th year students at Christmas and summer. Continuous assessment is used for all other students prior to Christmas, with formal examinations at summer. Pre-Junior Certificate exams are held in the second term. Records of pupil attainment in class tests are recorded in the teacher diary. This is a good means of pupil assessment and provides a deep source of information for feedback to parents and in assisting pupils in making subject choices at senior level and on what level of examination paper to choose in certificate exams. Written reports are sent to parents at Christmas and summer.
A number of Science notebooks observed were checked regularly. The mandatory practical notebooks contained an appropriate number of practical activities and the books were tidy and well maintained. It is recommended that the Science team explore the potential for developing an assessment strategy for the Science department. This would include the development of a common practice around the correction of homework, class-work notebooks and mandatory practical notebooks. It was reported that the Science team had discussed the formation of a common Science paper for the whole school exams at the end of the year, which would be a praiseworthy development. In addition, it is recommended that teachers incorporate a percentage allocation for the standard of notebooks or the write up of a practical activity, a practice which would mimic the coursework section of the revised Junior Science syllabus.
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 teachers of Science and Biology and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when 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
The Board of Management of St. Joseph’s Secondary School is very heartened by the findings of this Inspection. The noting of good practice and affirmation is gratefully received. The Board congratulates the Principal and Science teachers for their commitment to the Sciences and their students. The Board agrees that the Inspection was conducted in a fair and professional manner and feels that it will enhance the development of Science in the school.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
As an integral part of the ongoing School Development Planning, the Science team will explore the recommendations made with a view to common practice in the key areas mentioned.