An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Mathematics
Loreto Secondary School,
Granges Road, County Kilkenny
Roll number: 61580P
Date of inspection: 11 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Mathematics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Secondary School. 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 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 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.
Loreto Secondary School offers the Junior Certificate, optional Transition Year, Established Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Vocational and Leaving Certificate Applied programmes to its 780 students. The school has approximately fifteen main feeder primary schools. Prior to entry to the school incoming first-year students sit an assessment and on this day their parents are invited to view the facilities of the school. The school operates a nine class period day with a combination of thirty, thirty-five and forty minute class periods.
The Mathematics department comprises twelve teachers. At senior cycle, the teaching of higher-level Mathematics is rotated among those teachers whose main specialism is Mathematics. Additionally, the practice of rotating the teaching of levels at junior cycle and programmes such as Transition Year and Leaving Certificate Applied is commendable as it ensures that the subject expertise is maintained and developed within the department. Furthermore, teachers generally retain a class groupings from year to year, which is good practice as it promotes continuity in the learning experience for students.
Time allocated to Mathematics is, in general, good with five class periods per week allocated to all class groupings. The only exception is Transition Year with three class periods per week. However, two of the five class periods allocated to Leaving Certificate Mathematics are half an hour in duration, which is too short. It is recommended that such timetabling should be addressed in future years. Students have daily contact with Mathematics and classes are well distributed throughout the week. Furthermore, the concurrent timetabling of Mathematics bands from second year onwards is commendable practice.
Generally, five mixed-ability class groupings are arranged in first year. Mathematics classes are then banded from second year. Each band offers students the opportunity to study either higher or ordinary level in mixed-ability class groupings. When necessary, foundation level is offered. However, this is the exception rather than the norm. Management is commended for allocating extra Mathematics teachers to most year groups. Such good practice maximises student opportunities to follow a level appropriate to their needs while maintaining small class sizes.
Teachers have been facilitated to attend relevant in-service. In May, each department submits a budget to the Board of Management for the requisitioning of resources for the following year. Requests from the Mathematics department are granted and if necessary any reasonable extra budgetary requirements are sanctioned. Mathematical resources are retained in a centrally located area within the staffroom. To further enhance the current resources, it is recommended that teachers collaborate and develop a prioritised list of resources for the teaching and learning of Mathematics. For example consideration should be given to the purchasing of class sets of mathematical equipment. This will ensure that all students have access to appropriate resources and develop competencies in using such equipment in lessons.
The encouragement of students in the participation of co-curricular Mathematics activities is commendable and gives students an opportunity to engage with Mathematics in different settings and contexts. For example students participate in the Irish Mathematics Teachers Association (IMTA) sixth-year table quiz -TeamMath and have been invited to attend the Irish Mathematics Olympiads.
Learning-support teachers are in close contact with class teachers and usually follow the agreed common programme of study for Mathematics. Two designated learning-support rooms with resources such as textbooks, calculators, computers and specific software are available for the support of numeracy. Budgetary requirements are acquired in line with school policy.
Initial assessment of incoming first-year students provides the school with relevant information about the learning needs of students. Information from the principals of primary schools and psychological reports also assists in identifying students in need of support. Commendable practice ensures that parents of students receiving numeracy support are informed when a student is identified as being in need of support. Students in need of numeracy support receive this support in small groups to a maximum of four and on occasions on a one-to-one basis. Good practice in the provision of numeracy support ensures that students receive support at a time other than during Mathematics class time; usually when a student has an exemption in Irish. Management also provides an after school homework club. Such supports for students are commendable.
Work on the whole school plan is ongoing, with many policies already in place. Work in this area has been progressed with the assistance of a regional coordinator from the School Development Planning Initiative. To advance the school plan each year the school reviews its completed yearly work and prepares an action plan for the forthcoming year, which is commendable. Priorities for the current year include a review of the Code of Behaviour, curriculum review and ongoing work in the area of subject planning.
The most senior member of the Mathematics department ably assumes the responsibility for coordination of the subject. Consideration should be given to rotating this position to ensure that all within the department share in the responsibility for the coordination of Mathematics. Two timetabled subject department meetings are provided each year and the Mathematics department also meet informally on a regular basis. The school has a half hour staff meeting each week and three or four of these meetings are used as faculty meetings. Records of meeting are retained and refer to issues discussed such as a review of the long-term plan for Mathematics; the allocation of teachers to class groupings and agreed agendas for future meetings.
The Mathematics department has collaborated and developed a plan for Mathematics that includes a listing of chapters from a textbook for each year grouping and an agreed Homework Policy/Procedures for Mathematics. In reviewing the Mathematics plan it is recommended that the programme of study for each year grouping be based on the Department of Education and Science syllabuses. In addition the plan should include the aims and objectives for Mathematics, an outline of the resources available, and a suggested list of methodologies. This will allow for the compilation of one succinct plan for all Mathematics programmes offered in the school and provide teachers with an opportunity to continue to share best practices.
The Leaving Certificate Applied plan is commendable as it outlines various aspects of the syllabus, the methodologies used in the teaching of each area and associated resources. This plan should be included in the long-term plan for the department.
The Transition Year plan available is written for two levels, ordinary and higher level. The ordinary-level plan includes a combination of Junior and Leaving Certificate material and some investigative work. However the higher-level plan tends to focus mainly on Leaving Certificate material. It is therefore recommended that the Mathematics department collaborate and update the Transition Year module for Mathematics particularly for higher level to ensure compliance with circular M1/00. To this end consideration should be given to referring to materials and resources available on the website www.slss.ie.
Teachers’ individual planning documents observed were good and many included supplementary documentation such as teachers’ own notes and resources. There were some very good examples where individual plans included the aims and objectives, methodologies and resources to be used in the teaching of the subject. Such planning is commendable as it helps to ensure that all students make steady progress.
Trigonometry, algebra, statistics and probability were among the topics studied in lessons observed. Lessons were presented in a confident and coherent manner. Effective use was made of time to ensure that a good pace to all lessons was maintained. Best practice was observed when the objectives for the lessons were explicitly stated. In this way students’ focus was maintained. This practice should be extended to all lessons.
Terminology used was appropriate, and frequently students were asked to explain terms, which is good practice. Teachers regularly made linkages between relevant sections of the syllabus or real life situations. This is commendable practice and promotes the learning of Mathematics as a series of connected topics rather than they being taught or learnt in isolation.
Teaching in most cases was of a high standard. The predominant method used in all lessons was the teacher demonstrating a technique and students repeating the method using examples from textbooks. It is recommended that a greater range of teaching methodologies be used in lessons. In this context the Mathematics Junior Certificate Guidelines for Teachers outlines a range of methods such as practical work, discussion, group work, and quiz activities or investigative work and should be considered. Such methodologies will encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning and support independent thinking while helping to address all students’ preferred learning styles.
Teachers generally opened question and answer sessions by posing a question to the entire class group before asking an individual for the answer; this practice is commendable as it ensures that all students’ attention is maintained. Questions were used at the beginning of lessons to recall work from a previous lesson. Teachers made good use of students’ answers to probe and check understanding while taking the opportunity to clarify and correct wrong answers. Positively affirming students’ inputs is good practice as it encourages greater understanding and promotes students to become fully engaged and motivates students to further participate in lessons.
The predominant resources used in lessons observed were the textbooks, which were used as a source of examples in most lessons. Less frequently used were differentiated worksheets. There was evidence to suggest that greater use of differentiated worksheets would have allowed some students to engage more in the lesson and hence it is recommended that planning for such resources be undertaken.
Teachers had good classroom management skills and lessons were generally conducted in a warm friendly atmosphere. On occasion, when necessary and appropriate, sanctions in line with school policy were imposed. Teachers had good knowledge of their students’ abilities and there was evidence that teachers set high standards and students generally strove to achieve them. Frequently the teacher circulated to provide assistance where necessary and appropriate, which was done sensitively and discreetly. Students took such opportunities to clarify any misconceptions and were appreciative of teachers’ immediate feedback.
Some classrooms are teacher based but there was very little evidence of mathematical displays. There was however, one occasion where a student’s completed poster was given to the teacher who reported that it would be displayed in the classroom. This is commendable practice. It is recommended that as a department, teachers use students’ mathematical work and that mathematical displays are sourced and displayed to further enhance the learning environment for all students.
Teachers are commended for encouraging students to take a level in State examinations appropriate to their abilities. From an analysis of State examination results it is evident that student uptake at higher and ordinary level in both the Junior and Leaving Certificate is very good. In recent years due to the increase in the number of students taking foundation level at Leaving Certificate, management identified the need to provide an alternative programme of study for students, hence the introduction of the Leaving Certificate Applied. Such practice of ensuring that all student needs are catered for is commendable.
A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student progress in Loreto Secondary School. These include questioning in class, regular class tests, formal school examinations and homework assessment. School reports for first, second and fifth-year groupings are issued three times per year. Christmas and Easter reports are based on an average grade obtained by students during the school term. Following the completion of common assessments a summer report is issued based on these results. Examination year groupings receive two reports; a Christmas report, which is based on an average grade, and an Easter report, which is based on the ‘mock’ examination taken during the second term. Transition Year students receive two reports; one in January and one in June. Additionally, parent-teacher meetings are arranged for each year grouping.
Management provides teachers with a teacher diary within which records of student assessment results, assigned homework and attendance are recorded. Daily attendance is also monitored through the computerised system called Anseo. Journals are used by the students to record homework and specific notes. Additionally journals are used as a means of communication between home and school.
Homework assigned was appropriate in terms of quantity and relevance to the topics studied in the lessons. Homework assessment and associated records were retained in line with the school’s homework policy. Homework copies were generally well maintained and student work presented in an orderly manner. The monitoring of copies varied from teacher to teacher; some provided oral feedback during class time while others included some written feedback with suggested areas for improvements. It is important that students have the opportunity to benefit from identified errors and as such formative assessment should be used in all copies.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Recommendations reviewed and will be implemented as resources allow.