An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry
St. Brendanís College
Killarney, County Kerry
Roll number: 61320M
Date of issue of report: 15 December 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Brendanís College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Chemistry 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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 the 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.
St. Brendanís College is a diocesan secondary school, situated in close proximity to both the national park and the town centre of Killarney. As an academic institution, it is almost 150 years in existence and currently provides a broad range of educational opportunities to mainly boys and a few girls from the surrounding hinterland.
Science is in a strong position in the school. Junior Certificate Science is a core subject. All classes are of mixed ability. They generally retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle. This supports continuity of student learning and is good practice. When choosing their subject options for Leaving Certificate, students are provided with very good support and are initially offered an open choice. These choices are then used to create a ďbest-fitĒ model for senior-cycle subjects. Third-year students avail of the support and advice of the guidance counsellor before choosing their senior-cycle options. Parents and students are informed, by means of information evenings, of the senior-cycle educational programmes on offer in the school, in conjunction with the procedures for subject choice and the implications of the specific choices for students. They also receive a comprehensive guide to subject choice. This is very good practice.
Currently, students are offered an almost complete range of science subjects for Leaving Certificate: Agricultural Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Physics and Chemistry. The uptake of the sciences at senior cycle is generally very good. It is recommended that management and staff continue to devise strategies to increase the uptake of all science subjects, with particular reference to Chemistry. Management is commended for such a broad provision of science subjects. Consideration could be given to the provision of Agriculture and Horticulture or the Science elective as components of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme.
St. Brendanís College has a good resource in its science personnel. The science teachers are committed and adopt a collegial approach to their work. All science classes at both senior and junior cycle are of mixed ability, thus facilitating the setting of higher expectations amongst the students. The time allocation for Leaving Certificate Chemistry is in line with the class-contact time recommended in the syllabuses. However, the time allocation for Junior Certificate Science is below that recommended in the syllabus. While acknowledging the educational benefit of the taster system in first year and mindful of the timetabling challenges, the operation of lessons of thirty-five minutesí duration further reduces the class-contact time significantly over the three-year period. Therefore, it is recommended that avenues for increasing the class-contact time for Science be explored.†
Due to an ongoing review of posts of responsibility, there is currently no subject co-ordinator in place. It is understood that strategies will be explored in order to resolve this matter.
It is commended that a formal mentoring structure has been put in place for new teachers. All students have weekly access to the laboratories, with priority being given to double lessons. Extra access can be obtained by agreement between teachers. This is also commended. While there is no science-specific learning support, links have been developed between the learning-support department and the science teachers. A recent proposal to enhance student learning in all subjects has been the compilation of key terms by subject specialists for use by the learning-support department. It is recommended that this resource be advanced as soon as is practicable. While students with English as an additional language receive extra support, whole-staff strategies should be devised to enhance this provision.
There are three science laboratories, two of which have an adjoining preparation area in separate areas of the school. These facilities were viewed during the evaluation. Of note are the new fume cupboards which have been recently installed in all laboratories. Good work has been done in storing equipment and materials in labelled cupboards in each laboratory. A number of issues with regard to facilities in the Science laboratories were identified during the visit. Some work has been done on the storage of chemicals, which should not be stored in a laboratory. It is recommended however that this work be built upon so that all chemicals are stored in accordance with best safety practice and Department of Education and Science guidelines. Laboratory safety is prioritised in the school. There is a high level of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets, safety glasses etc., in the laboratories. Copies of the published guidelines on safety Ė Safety in School Science and Safety in the School Laboratory published by the Department of Education and Science in 1996 are available to all staff. Safety rules are on display in each laboratory. This is commended. It is good to note that electrical isolation switches are present in all laboratories and that a gas isolation switch is present in the chemistry laboratory. It is noted that the other two laboratories do not have any gas facilities. It is recommended that strategies be devised to ensure that gas facilities are available for those mandatory investigations where it is deemed necessary.
The school has a health and safety statement, which is currently under review. It is good to note that science teachers were consulted during the compilation process. Management is commended on the financial support that is made available on a needs basis for the provision of necessary materials and resources.
The laboratories contain overhead projectors, data projectors and computers to support the teaching and learning of the sciences. Teachers also have access to TV/VCR/DVD units. A major structural redevelopment of the school is planned for the near future, hence the networking of only one of the current buildings. ICT suites are also available for the teaching and learning of the sciences and data-logging equipment has been purchased. Teachers are applauded for the effective use of this equipment. The provision of such facilities is noteworthy.
Management is also commended on the commitment given to facilitate continuing professional development. All teachers have had the opportunity to attend in-career development in the sciences. The dedication and enthusiasm of teachers themselves are further demonstrated by their willingness to host Chemistry in-career training for local teachers in recent years. Whole-staff development workshops focusing on health and safety and school development planning (SDP) have also taken place. Management encourages the professional development of its teachers and timetabling is arranged to facilitate such participation when necessary. This is laudable.
A high level of provision is made for co-curricular and extra-curricular science activities including fieldtrips, industrial visits, quizzes and the in-school young scientist competition. It is commendable that close links have been developed with the local pharmaceutical company.† Those involved are to be praised for their commitment to facilitating these educational and stimulating activities.
The school is involved in school development planning (SDP) and has a broad range of whole-school policies in place. School management facilitates subject department planning by providing time for subject departments to meet three times during the school year. This very good practice should continue to be factored into the school calendar. The formal departmental planning that exists is commendably enhanced by ongoing informal collaboration and cooperation. Well-stocked laboratories provide evidence of successful planning for resources.
The members of the science department, working collaboratively, have developed plans for the organisation, teaching and learning of Science and Chemistry in St. Brendanís College. Teachers are highly commended for this level of departmental planning. Particularly noteworthy are the references to a mission statement, references to teaching strategies and health and safety procedures. Common yearly schemes of work for each year of junior cycle have also been devised. It is recommended that such schemes of work be broadened in time to include detailed provision for, for example, specific timeframes, as is currently the case in the first-year scheme, links between practical work and theory and resource requirements. Optional assessment methods and examination preparation, as well as continual revision work could also be incorporated. This task could be carried out on a phased basis taking, for example, one senior and one junior year group per annum. These schemes should then be incorporated into the department plans.
Evidence of individual teacher planning and preparation seen was most satisfactory. Preparation for classes was noted as being at a very high standard. This was evidenced by the prior preparation of materials and the compilation of appropriate equipment and experimental resources. In all instances teachers demonstrated a fine commitment to the generation of comprehensive folders of resources, electronic resources and individual plans of work, which support the teaching process. This is commended.
A fine and in some instances, excellent standard of teaching and learning was evident in the lessons observed. A variety of topics such as pollution, density, organic chemistry, germination and atomic theory were dealt with during the lessons. Teachers used a variety of effective teaching methods that helped to engage students. These included class discussion, student practical work, group work and student worksheets. Good use was made of the whiteboard or blackboard to record studentsí responses, to highlight key scientific terms and to outline the main learning points of lessons. In some instances worksheets were used effectively in guiding and reinforcing studentsí work. The overhead projector and in particular the data projector were used very effectively to highlight salient points and provide visual stimuli to enhance studentsí understanding. The integration of ICT assisted in engaging and motivating students in their learning and is commended.
Lessons were well structured and sequenced with a logical progression from one section of the lesson to the next. Overall, lessons proceeded at a smart pace, which resulted in a realistic amount of work being completed in the allocated time. There was evidence of good continuity with previous lessons through correction of homework and questioning. There were also some very nice examples of linking the lesson content to the everyday life experiences of the students, thus making the subject tangible and relevant. In almost all cases, lesson objectives were shared with students at the outset. This good practice is commended as it provides a sense of purpose for students and when the lesson has been successfully concluded, provides a sense of achievement. The content was clearly communicated and lessons contained a good mix of theory and practical activities.
In one lesson, for a short time students worked in pairs discussing various types of pollution with a view to class completion of a spider diagram. This is good practice as it provides students with an opportunity to learn from each other. Teachers are encouraged to expand its employment where appropriate. Pair work was also in evidence as students developed their understanding of the structures of alcohols through the use of molecular models.
Question-and-answer sessions were used effectively to engage the students, to ascertain studentsí previous knowledge prior to the introduction of a new topic and to assess and consolidate student learning and comprehension. It is significant that in one instance during class discussion, students were encouraged to answer with complete sentences, thus extending their communication skills and providing opportunities for studentsí use of scientific language. It is recommended that teachers build on this excellent practice to enhance further the teaching and learning of the sciences. The policy of directing questions to individual students is noted as good practice, and so it is recommended that this be continued and further developed where appropriate. Studentsí responses indicated good understanding and knowledge.
A practical lesson with hands-on student activities was very effectively organised and supported the development of studentsí understanding and skills. Excellent attention was given to appropriate safety precautions; as students were due to work in that specific laboratory for the first time, they were initially made aware of the emergency procedures. Subsequently the safety practices specific to the particular experiment were clearly explained. The successful development of practical skills, evident in the manner in which students completed relevant tasks, is to be commended. The students worked well and assisted the teacher in setting up and tidying away the materials and equipment. It is noteworthy that ICT was employed very effectively to provide visual stimuli during the plenary session on completion of the practical activities, thus consolidating student learning.
The revised syllabus has placed increased emphasis on scientific investigation and on the application of science process skills through student activities. Therefore it is recommended that this approach, which is strongly reflected in the coursework, be proactively adopted at junior cycle. Such an approach would also further increase studentsí motivation and enthusiasm.
Student outcomes in terms of knowledge and skills are good and in many instances very good. Oral assessments are effectively integrated into all lessons. Students were able to communicate effectively during the inspection, demonstrating a clear understanding of the concepts learned during their lessons.
A very good teacher-student rapport exists in St. Brendanís College. In all classes visited, students were co-operative, well behaved, and had a positive attitude to their work. A good learning environment and mutual respect were in evidence. Overall, students actively participated in the learning process. The firm approach employed by teachers in sensitively maintaining discipline, combined with their purposeful style, ensured that the lessons progressed in an atmosphere where studentsí participation was warmly welcomed and encouraged. Effective use was made of student affirmation. The laboratories visited were attractive and stimulating and were enhanced by the display of a variety of educational posters, anatomy models, experimental work and student awards.
All students have a laboratory notebook/workbook in which they record their investigative work. These practical books are generally of a high standard. There is some evidence of monitoring which is laudable. It is recommended that this good practice be employed to a greater extent, in conjunction with annotating studentsí work with comments on areas where they need to improve, thus incorporating the technique of Assessment for Learning (AfL). It is commendable that students receive credit in the form of a percentage mark for their practical books towards the end-of-term examinations as it provides motivation for engagement by all students with the practical element of the course.
In accordance with the schoolís homework policy, students are assigned homework in order to consolidate the learning that has taken place during a specific lesson. This was generally corrected by the teacher, in collaboration with the students. Consideration could also be given to the practice of students correcting each otherís work in relation to small tasks, as students learn from each other and are quicker to spot each otherís mistakes.
It is good to note that students' performance is monitored throughout the year. Students are formally assessed at Christmas and summer, with the examination classes also having mock examinations which are corrected by external agencies. In addition, studentsí progress is evaluated by other methods including project work and informal examination at the end of October and again at Easter. It is significant that in many instances common examination papers are set. It is recommended that this excellent practice be expanded, as it helps to establish a common direction for the subject, whilst ensuring consistency and cohesiveness within the department. Examination results and appraisal of studentsí progress and behaviour are conveyed to the parents or guardians by means of a school report four times a year and the annual parent-teacher meeting. Contact with parents is also maintained via the student journal and twice yearly newsletters. A letter is sent to parents when students are not reaching their full potential. Parents may also meet with the staff by appointment. This open communication is commended.
Attendance rates, homework and assessment results are systematically recorded in teachersí journals. This good practice helps to build a profile of studentsí engagement, progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time. Subject-specific statistical analysis of State examination results is carried out in the school and imparted to relevant subject departments, while the board of management receives a report of the analysis of studentsí CAO points against the national average.
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 Chemistry 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
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
For the school year 07/08 we no longer have Morning Assembly and will be able to increase class contact time for Junior Certificate Science.† We plan to store all chemicals with best safety practice and the Department of Education and Science Guidelines in the near future. †At the moment we are in the process of ensuring that gas facilities will be available for those mandatory investigations where it is deemed necessary.† We are in the process of purchasing equipment to ensure that all Science Labs will have these facilities in-situ.
Finally, as all teachers concerned have received a copy of this report, they have assured me that they will be using the investigative approach to the teaching of Science at Junior Cert level, in line with the increased emphasis in the revised syllabus.