An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Mathematics
CBS James Street,
James’s Street, Dublin 8
Roll number: 60410I
Date of inspection: 14 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Mathematics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in CBS James’s Street. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics 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 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.
CBS James’s Street is an all boys’ secondary school offering the Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme to its 307 students. The school operates a forty-one class period week. Class periods are thirty-five, forty or forty-five minutes in duration.
The Mathematics department comprises five teachers. Teachers are given opportunities to rotate the teaching of levels and programmes. This is good practice as it means that subject expertise is maintained and developed among Mathematics teachers. In addition teachers generally retain a class grouping from year to year. Management is commended for its good allocation of teachers to Mathematics. For example, in general, from second year onwards an extra Mathematics teacher is assigned to each Mathematics year grouping. This allows for the creation of small class groupings and, when necessary, means that students can follow one of the three levels of Mathematics at junior cycle or senior cycle.
Incoming first-year students are streamed following an initial assessment. Currently there are four class groups in first year. Two of these are JCSP classes and the other two class groups are streamed. Generally students remain within these groupings throughout the junior cycle. Consideration should be given to a more flexible manner of placing students in classes in first year, to ensure that all are given an opportunity to achieve their potential.
Time allocated to Mathematics is good. Each junior cycle class grouping has five class periods per week. Six class periods are allocated to fifth and sixth-year Mathematics classes and four class periods are allocated to Leaving Certificate Applied Mathematics. Generally the distribution of classes throughout the week is good. However one third-year class grouping has two of its five class periods on one day. It is recommended that a review of timetabling be undertaken to ensure, in so far as is possible, that students have daily contact with the subject. Excluding JCSP class groupings, Mathematics classes are concurrently timetabled from second year onwards, which allows students to follow a level of Mathematics appropriate to their abilities.
Teachers are facilitated to attend inservice pertaining to Mathematics. Furthermore management provides financial support for the purchasing of supplementary mathematical equipment. For example, teachers have access to overhead projectors, mathematical games and class set of calculators. Although mathematical materials are retained by teachers in their own classrooms teachers share these materials.
Numeracy support is offered to students based on information gathered from the first-year students’ initial assessment and information from primary schools. Currently numeracy support is being offered to students on a withdrawal basis from their base Mathematics classes. This is not good practice as it disrupts the continuity in the learning experience for students. It is recommended that a review of the manner in which numeracy support is offered be undertaken to ensure that all students benefit from such support.
School development planning is ongoing. At present the school is reviewing its mission statement and code of discipline.
Management provides Mathematics teachers with an opportunity to meet formally approximately three times per year. A member of the Mathematics department acts as convenor of the subject. Minutes of meetings are recorded and reflect discussion on common methods to be used in the teaching of topics, division of classes and agreed agendas for future meetings. Recording minutes of meetings is good practice as it ensures that agreed practices and procedures are documented.
Individual planning records made available during the inspection were good. Many included yearly, termly and weekly programmes of work to be taught. In addition, some also included a range of assessments that would take place for each topic while others included objectives for the subject and teaching methodologies. Such detailed schemes of work are to be commended as they provide a clear focus for work to be covered.
Long-term planning for Mathematics has commenced and a common programme of study for first and fifth-year class groups has been documented. It is recommended that teachers collaborate to progress the long-term plan for the department. This plan should outline the sections of the syllabus at junior and senior cycle and the advised areas of study under each of these sections. The plan should also include planning for the use of a variety of methodologies, resources, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities under each of these sections. In this way teachers will have an opportunity to share good practice and, in addition, there will be a clear outline available of what is covered in each year. The plan should guide teachers’ day-to-day work in the classroom and promote continuity and steady progression in the students’ learning, while complementing teachers’ individual planning for lessons. Furthermore, it is recommended that regular review of the plan be undertaken to include any necessary amendments and updates.
Lessons were well paced and the content was appropriate in terms of syllabus requirements and student abilities. In general, clear objectives were established by teachers at the outset of the lessons. Best practice occurred when time was given at the end of a lesson to recapping on new concepts or important formulae engaged with during the lesson. This is commendable practice and is to be encouraged in all lessons.
In some lessons teachers or students made linkages between topics. This had the effect of encouraging students to think of Mathematics as an integrated programme rather than as a range of topics learnt in isolation. This is good practice and should be encouraged in all lessons.
In general there was a good balance between student work and teacher input. Lower-order questions were used at the opening of lessons to allow students to recall work done in previous lessons. In some lessons higher-order questioning was used to good effect to encourage students to justify and give reasons for their answers. Frequently teachers used traditional methods of teaching, which included the demonstration by the teacher of a technique and the students then practising the method by completing exercises from a textbook or worksheet. It is recommended that a greater range of methodologies and questioning strategies be used in all lessons. This will ensure that the preferred learning style of all students is catered for.
Teachers had good classroom management skills and had developed a good rapport with their students. In general, classrooms were decorated with mathematical posters or displays. On occasion such displays were used to aid in the teaching of a concept in Mathematics. Other resources used in lessons included the overhead projector, differentiated worksheets and, to a lesser extent, the textbook, which was used as a reference. Such practices are commendable and should be extended to all lessons.
Teachers’ interactions with students were positive and, in general, students demonstrated capabilities in answering questions posed to them by their teachers and by the inspector. Teachers are encouraged to maintain ongoing vigilance to ensure that students continue to aspire to their full potential when choosing an appropriate level in state examinations.
Assessment in CBS James Street takes many forms such as class questioning, end-of-topic examinations and formal assessments. Non-examination years have formal assessments at Christmas and summer. Third and sixth-year students have Christmas and ‘mock’ examinations; however, LCA students do not sit ‘mock’ examinations. Consideration should be given to including the LCA students in ‘mock’ examinations.
Communication between school and home is maintained through parent-teacher meetings and through the issuing of two school reports following formal school assessments. Furthermore letters are issued or student journals are used as a means of contact with home.
Homework has an important role in students’ learning and the school’s homework policy states that homework will be given regularly. During the course of the inspection homework was assigned in many classes. It was reported that it is difficult for many students to complete homework regularly. In addition, the quality of presentation of students’ work varied. Some students presented their work in an orderly manner while others were not as careful. It is suggested that students’ be awarded a portion of their marks in end of term examinations for submission of work and maintenance of class and homework in order to encourage students to do better in these areas. There was evidence to suggest that many teachers monitored students’ work within their copies. However, it is recommended that on occasion more formative assessment be given to students when correcting their work as this will provide students with clear guidance on areas for improvement.
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 Mathematics and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.