An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Physics
Loreto Secondary School
Bray, County Wicklow
Roll number: 61820J
Date of inspection: 16, 17 and 18 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Physics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Secondary School, Bray. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Physics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects in the school. The evaluation was conducted over three 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.
First year students have the opportunity to study all subjects on offer at junior cycle, therefore, Science is offered as a core subject to all first year students. Parents and first year students are supported in choosing subjects for Junior Certificate, the implications of subject choice are explained, and students are therefore in a position to make an informed choice. This is commended. In excess of eighty percent of third year students currently study Science. However, the current number of students studying Science in second year is disappointingly low and not in line with science uptake trends over recent years. It is therefore recommended that the school keeps uptake of Science monitored and evaluated. It is commendable and timely that teachers will be addressing this issue at a planned Junior Science Support Service day in the school in the coming year.
First year science students are placed in mixed ability class groups. The current second year science classes are mixed ability with streaming the norm in third year. The school is moving towards mixed ability science classes and this is commendable. Classes generally retain the same teacher throughout second and third year and fifth and sixth year and have a maximum class size in accordance with school policy.
There are modules of Physics, Chemistry and Biology in the optional Transition Year, (TY) programme. Currently Physics and Chemistry are offered as five-week modules while Biology is given a nine-week module. Consideration should be given to allocating equivalent time to each of the TY science subjects.
Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered to senior cycle students. Students and parents are well supported in making informed choices regarding Leaving Certificate subjects. This support includes support from the school guidance service, an information meeting for parents and advice from subject teachers.
Time allocation to Science is satisfactory in second year and third year; however, first-year science is allocated only one double class period per week. Therefore, it is recommended that consideration be given to increasing the time allocation to Science in first year in line with the time allocation for junior cycle and in accordance with syllabus recommendations. Time allocation to the senior science subjects is satisfactory.
There are eleven teachers in the science department at Loreto Secondary School, Bray. The school actively supports teachers in their continuous professional development (CPD). For example, the board of management has put a fund in place to subsidise courses undertaken by teachers as part of their CPD. Teachers have attended many relevant inservice courses. In addition, the school has hosted inservice courses for teachers in the region. This is commended.
There are very good laboratory facilities in the school. The five laboratories are very well maintained and organised. This is highly commended. There are shared or separate storage facilities which contain adequate resources for teaching Science at junior and senior level. Equipment is organised to be readily available for class use and resource boxes of equipment for junior science have been prepared. The excellent work of the teachers in this regard is highly commended. Access to laboratories is very good with every double period having timetabled access to a laboratory. It is commendable that maximum use is made of laboratory facilities with as many science classes as possible taking place in a laboratory through effective timetabling.
The school health and safety statement, which is currently under review, dates to 2003. Science teachers were consulted on the sections concerning science facilities and science teaching. The school has adopted Department of Education and Science guidelines to form part of health and safety policy in Science. This is commended. It is recommended that this review proceeds to conclusion and that the science section of the health and safety statement be customised to make it more relevant to the school.
All laboratories are broadband enabled. Laptop computers and data-projectors are available to science teachers on a booking system. The school has three computer rooms which may be booked, if required. Some individual computers and data logging equipment are available in the laboratories. It is recommended that ICT facilities be further upgraded over time, that teachers avail of training in ICT and that an enhanced bank of ICT science resources be developed.
Students from Loreto Secondary School have participated in many extra-curricular and out-of-school activities, which include student participation in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, ISTA Chemistry Quiz, the Young Science Writers Competition, Faraday lectures, Science Week activities and Science Olympiads. Science teachers and school management are commended in their support of students in this regard.
Science teachers meet regularly on a monthly basis for department planning meetings. At the beginning of the school year, junior science and senior science subject meetings review the previous year’s work and plan for the year ahead. Many important and relevant issues are discussed at these meetings as evidenced from the minutes. Further meetings may be requested in the course of the year, as necessary.
Good science planning is in place and the plans for Science and Physics made available were thorough. These plans addressed many issues including CPD, assessment, department planning and resources. The science department has also produced an induction document for new teachers. This includes much useful information regarding Science in the school, such as how the subject is organised, health and safety practice, the scheme of work for each year of junior cycle, some senior cycle material, templates for laboratory seating plans and an extensive section on resources available and how these resources are organised. The work of the science department in drawing up this extensive document and in keeping it updated is highly commended. However, it is recommended that this science plan be extended and further developed to include areas such as measures to promote uptake of Science for Junior Certificate and uptake of science subjects at senior cycle, sharing of best practice following CPD, future development of ICT in teaching and learning and the organisation of practical work. All the various elements of science planning could be incorporated into a single science planning document.
The Transition Year science programme has been planned using a common template. This good practice is commended. However, it is recommended that these plans should be developed with input from the entire science department. Programmes should be streamlined to each include practical aspects of science together with subject sampling material. The science department is encouraged to make further use of material from outside agencies in its TY programme.
The coordination of Science is currently shared by department members. Some have particular designated roles regarding ordering equipment or taking minutes. The work of science teachers in this regard is highly commended. In an effort to streamline the ongoing planning process for Science, it is recommended that an annual rotating “convenor” of Science be appointed. The possible role and duties for this voluntary position could be formulated by the science department.
There is ongoing stocktaking of laboratory resources and any requirements are noted and brought to the attention of management. This is commended. An annual budget is allocated to the science department for laboratory consumables and equipment and an additional application can be made to the board of management, if additional resources are required.
There was very good planning in advance of lessons observed. All necessary teaching resources and practical equipment were ready in advance of lessons. The very organised state of the laboratories supported the successful outcomes of the practical and other lessons observed. In addition lesson content was very well planned.
Lessons were well structured and many incorporated a review of previously learned material, presentation of new material and a summary of material taught with homework assigned to consolidate the learning process. A very good atmosphere for learning was created and a very good rapport was in evidence.
Teaching and student learning were of a high quality in all lessons evaluated. Students were generally addressed by name and their work and responses were affirmed. Many classes visited were of mixed ability and teachers demonstrated very good practice in catering for the needs of the whole class and in giving individual attention, when needed. This was particularly in evidence when teachers circulated the classroom as students worked individually or in small groups on an assignment or practical task. This practice is highly commended.
Methodologies were varied in all lessons and a range of teaching aids was used effectively. The whiteboard and overhead projector were used effectively in many lessons observed, as an aid to present material, to focus attention on new concepts and ideas and as an aid in summing up lessons. New concepts were generally explained with very good clarity and any misconceptions students had regarding these topics were dealt with effectively. There was an example where the overhead projector was used very effectively to introduce the topic of water hardness and to prepare students for a practical investigation on this topic. Key probing questions were posed on the screen and a lively class discussion followed. In some lessons, the use of ICT would have enhanced the student learning process and it is recommended that use of this methodology be pursued. Worksheets were distributed in most lessons and had the effect of consolidating the material learned, provided a focus for the work of the lesson or provided a suitable assignment for completion as a homework exercise. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons.
Practical investigations were very well organised and were implemented in an investigative way in line with syllabus requirements. These investigations were conducted in a very orderly environment. Teachers often intervened during this process, drawing the attention of the class to important results, while asking probing and challenging questions to stimulate student interest. This process was very successful at achieving very good student learning outcomes as evidenced during the evaluation. Time was managed very well during the investigations. Students worked collaboratively and with enthusiasm in small groups. There was an example where students were following a rota of physics experiments. Students were well challenged as they took the required results and analysed the data for interpretation. They gained a clear sense of achievement when calculated results matched closely theoretical predictions. Students carried out practical investigations with enthusiasm. In the majority of lessons, teachers introduced the topic of the investigations thoroughly in advance and it is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons. Teachers are commended in that health and safety practices were well implemented.
There was very effective use made of questioning in all lessons observed. Questions were used to revise material and to introduce new material. Questioning worked very well in pursuing the investigative approach to learning. In one lesson observed, where students were preparing for a practical investigation on separating techniques, students were set probing and searching questions regarding what and why a particular apparatus should be used in the investigation. Lively class discussion followed such questioning and students felt better prepared for the investigation ahead. Open-ended probing questions were used to stimulate interest. Teachers used differentiation skilfully in posing questions and were constantly aware of the range of abilities in their class groups. Links of the content of the lesson to students’ everyday experiences were a feature of most lessons.
Science was taught and explored in an interesting and innovative way. In one lesson observed students were introduced to a module on forensic science as part of the TY programme. Students received clear instructions regarding procedures and safety precautions. Student involvement and participation was very high and students were enabled with responsibility for their own learning. The teaching methodology and the material content were consistent with TY programme guidelines.
The laboratories provided a good environment for learning with colourful posters and students’ work in evidence. The work of the teachers in this regard is commended.
The uptake of higher-level Science is very good. Student outcomes in terms of knowledge and skills as observed were very good as evidenced in the course of this evaluation. Students were generally confident at answering questions on their work and showed a good level of knowledge and a clear understanding of taught material.
There is very good support for students in relation to assessment and student progress. The school has introduced a student mentoring system where teachers volunteer to participate in a programme which supports students who have difficulties with school including issues such as homework or organisation of work. This is highly commended.
Christmas reports are based on continuous assessment. All students sit formal examinations in February including third and sixth years who sit their mock examinations. Common examinations are set for the summer assessments and a common marking scheme is used to correct the papers. First year and second year students sit a common examination paper in February. Certificate examination classes attend lessons of one and a half hours duration while summer school examinations are in progress. In addition, regular class tests are set. Homework was corrected and assigned in line with the school homework policy during many lessons observed.
Parents receive three written reports per year, at Christmas, spring and summer. Teachers may communicate with home through the student journal which parents of junior cycle students sign on a weekly basis. Year heads follow up with parents on poor attention to homework or poor class participation. Parent teacher meetings are organised for all year groups with the exception of TY.
Certificate examination results are analysed each year and school staff and parents are informed of general trends. Relevant results are discussed at subject department planning meetings at the beginning of the year. At Junior Certificate there is a very high honours rate which is on the increase. The honours rate in Leaving Certificate Physics is also very high.
The learning support department provides help to any student experiencing difficulty in literacy or numeracy. Team teaching may be used in Science to address particular learning difficulties.
The laboratory notebooks were of variable standard, some were in very good condition while others need completion and further attention. Therefore, it is recommended that the good practice of annotating practical notebooks is extended across the science department and in addition that there is follow-up on corrections completed by students. In addition, the practice of allocating a portion of the marks in school-based assessments for practical work completed and recorded should be developed in an effort to improve the quality of this work.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is offered as a core subject to all first year students. Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered to senior cycle students. Students and parents are well supported in making informed choices regarding Junior and Leaving Certificate subjects.
· There are very good laboratory facilities in the school. The five laboratories are very well maintained and organised.
· Science teachers meet regularly on a monthly basis for department planning meetings. Good science planning is in place and effective plans for Science and Physics were available.
· Lessons were well structured. A very strong atmosphere of learning was created and a very good rapport was in evidence. Teaching and student learning were of a high quality.
· Practical investigations were very well organised and were implemented in an investigative way in line with syllabus requirements.
· The uptake of higher-level Science is very good.
· Christmas reports are based on continuous assessment. Common examinations are set for the summer assessments. Parents receive three written reports per year, at Christmas, spring and summer.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Uptake of Science for Junior Certificate should be monitored and evaluated.
· Consideration should be given to increasing the time allocation to Science in first year in accordance with syllabus recommendations.
· ICT facilities should be further upgraded over time and teachers should avail of training in ICT. An enhanced bank of ICT science resources should be developed over time. In this way, the effective use of ICT will be extended to more lessons.
· The science plan should be extended and developed. The TY plan for Science should be developed with input from the entire science department and programmes should be streamlined.
· An annual rotating “convenor” of Science should be appointed.
· The good practice of annotating practical notebooks should be extended across the science department and there should be follow-up on corrections completed by students. The practice of allocating a portion of the marks in school-based assessments to practical work completed and recorded should be developed.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science, together with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.