An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry
Deerpark Christian Brothers School
Saint Patrick’s Road, Cork City
Roll number: 62540I
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Deerpark CBS. 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 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.
Deerpark CBS is a Catholic boys’ secondary school which is situated on the south side of Cork city and operates under the Edmund Rice schools’ charter. The original school, at Sullivan’s Quay, was founded over one hundred and seventy-eight years ago. The school moved to its current location in 1968, and continues to provide a fine range of educational opportunities to boys, generally from the inner city, the South Parish, Ballyphehane, the Lough and Togher.
The school strives to develop the understanding and knowledge of students in the sciences. To this end, Junior Certificate Science is a core subject, Transition Year (TY) students have two periods per week in each of the Leaving Certificate sciences, and Biology, Physics and Chemistry are offered as optional subjects for Leaving Certificate. The science teachers and management are commended on facilitating the senior cycle subjects particularly, even at times when the uptake is not good. It is recommended that management and staff continue to devise strategies to increase the uptake of all science subjects, with particular reference to Physics. It is also good to note that Leaving Certificate subject pre-selection does not occur in Transition Year, allowing students an extra year of experience and maturity before making their choices.
All science lessons take place in the laboratories. The time allocation for the sciences is in line with the class-contact time recommended in the syllabuses. Initially, in first year, all classes are of mixed ability. Having monitored students’ progress for a number of months, they are then streamed after Christmas. The school considers that the needs of all students are met in this manner. From that time, classes generally retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle. This supports continuity of student learning and is good practice. The option blocks for Leaving Certificate are devised based on student preference and best practice, the sciences being placed in separate blocks. TY and 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 guide to subject choice. This is very good practice.
Deerpark CBS has an excellent resource in its science personnel. The science teachers are committed and adopt a collegial approach to their work. The dedication and enthusiasm of teachers themselves is evidenced by their willingness to host Chemistry in-career training for local teachers, and the completion of a Masters in Education (Science) in recent years, by one of the teachers. The willingness of these experienced teachers to share their expertise is admirably demonstrated by their continuing active involvement in the pre-service training of science teachers. One teacher runs physics training workshops for students studying for the Post Graduate Diploma in Education (P.G.D.E) course in NUI Cork. The teachers also act as mentors for students doing the Science Education modules in NUI Cork, along with those studying the H. Dip. in Ed. Two members of the science team and a colleague from another subject department, are involved in NCCA Senior Cycle projects. Participation in activities such as this is highly praised.
Management is commended on the commitment given to facilitate continuing professional development. All teachers have had the opportunity to attend in-career development in the sciences. Whole-staff development workshops focusing on mixed-ability teaching and school development planning (SDP) have also taken place.
Strong links have been developed between the science teachers and the learning-support department, one of whom has a science background. Students have science-specific support as needed. It is excellent practice that team teaching is carried out during student practical sessions.
There are three science laboratories at the school, each with separate storage and preparation areas, one above the other, on the three levels of the building. These facilities were viewed during the evaluation. Of note is the recently renovated ground-floor laboratory. Equipment and materials are suitably stored in labelled cupboards in each laboratory. Good work has been done on the storage of chemicals, which are stored in accordance with storage classification guidelines, in the chemistry store. During the course of the inspection, it was recommended that a flame- resistant press be purchased for the storage of flammable chemicals. There is a high level of safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets and safety glasses, in the laboratories. It is good to note that gas isolation switches are present in all laboratories. During the evaluation process, it was recommended that an electrical isolation switch, similar to the gas switch be installed in each laboratory. It was suggested that management could apply for funding for this work, from the Department of Education and Science, under the Summer Works Scheme. Since the inspection, however, management has commenced the process of resolving both the issue of the electrical isolation switches and the flame resistant cabinet. Management is commended on this proactive approach.
The school has a health and safety statement, which was reviewed in 2005. It is good to note that science teachers were consulted during the review process. The laboratories contain overhead projectors, one data projector, and computers to support the teaching and learning of the sciences. ICT suites are also available for the teaching and learning of the sciences, and data-logging equipment has been purchased. The provision, and effective use of such facilities is noteworthy. Management is commended on the financial support that is made available on a needs basis for the provision of necessary materials and resources.
A high level of provision is made for co-curricular and extra-curricular science activities including fieldtrips, industrial visits, and quizzes. Links with the local third-level institutions have facilitated students’ participation in educational programmes, such as the Salters’ laboratory summer camp Those involved are to be praised for their commitment to facilitating these educational and stimulating activities.
The school has engaged in the school development planning (SDP) process and has a range of whole-school policies in place. School management facilitates subject department collaboration and planning, by providing time for subject departments to meet three times during the school year. The formal discussion and planning that exists is commendably enhanced by ongoing informal collaboration and cooperation. Well-stocked laboratories provide evidence of successful planning for resources. Boxes containing class sets of equipment for mandatory practical activities in junior Science have been organised. This is very good practice.
The faculty is very well led and managed by the coordinator and there is a good team spirit, which generates a shared commitment to improving students’ learning. A common plan has been devised for the first term of first year. This is complemented by a common assessment at Christmas, following which the students are streamed.
Outline schemes of work provide evidence of superb individual teacher planning. In the context of curricular planning, within the SDP process, consideration should be given to the development of a common written programme of work, for Junior Certificate Science. Such a programme could include detailed provision for specific timeframes, for example, as is currently the case in some individual programmes. Links between practical work and theory, and resource requirements could also be incorporated. 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. The variety of experiences of all the science teachers in the school is a major resource in this process.
Written documentation supports the teaching of all sciences in TY. A written plan is in place for Chemistry. A comprehensive booklet, containing a detailed account of the applied biology topics and student activities, has been devised for Biology, and a workbook and accompanying video has been developed in Physics. The good practice of providing an interesting context, within which scientific ideas are developed, in parallel with enhancing students’ practical skills in TY is noted. Science teachers are to be praised for their efforts in this regard.
Preparation for classes was noted as being of a very high standard. This was evidenced by the prior preparation of materials, and the compilation of appropriate equipment and experimental resources, in conjunction with student worksheets and ICT resources. This level of preparation is to be highly commended.
A positive and stimulating learning environment was evident and a very good teacher-student rapport was observed in all lessons visited. Students were co-operative, well behaved and had a positive attitude to their work. The teachers sought to encourage learning at all times, and interacted frequently with their students during the course of the lessons. Overall, students actively participated in the learning process. The laboratories visited were bright and one, in particular, was enhanced by the display of a variety of educational posters, anatomy models, experimental work and many plants. The science department is awaiting the delivery of educational posters for another laboratory which has recently been refurbished.
Lessons were well structured and sequenced with a logical progression from one section of the lesson to the next. Clear objectives for learning were shared with the students. Teaching for understanding was evident in all lessons. The content was accurate, and was communicated in a way that was understood by the students. A variety of activities were utilised, to promote student engagement, and to provide new information. In all instances, students were afforded the opportunities to process new material. The high-quality teaching was characterised by very good subject knowledge, lively and informative explanation and discussion, which captured student interest. Topics such as pH curves, food and photosynthesis, were dealt with during the lessons. Overall, lessons proceeded at a smart pace, which resulted in a realistic amount of work being completed in the allocated time.
Good use was made of the whiteboard and of information and communication technology (ICT) to record students’ responses and to outline the main learning points of lessons. The integration of ICT assisted in engaging and motivating students in their learning and is commended. In a theory lesson, the overhead projector, in conjunction with a solar cell, were employed successfully to demonstrate a kinetic energy conversion.
Science was made relevant to students’ everyday experiences during class work. Students’ contributions were encouraged and affirmed. In one instance, a student’s previous knowledge of the topic, obtained through the medium of television programmes such as ‘Brainiac’ and ‘Scope,’ was very successfully employed in developing the lesson content. The real-life applications of the material being taught were emphasised and this practice is commendable.
There was evidence of good continuity with previous lessons through questioning. Assessment of students’ understanding, and progress was ascertained through relevant questioning. Questioning was also effective in engaging students. Open-ended questions were helpful in establishing students’ previous knowledge of a new topic, and allowed them to explore their ideas as the content was developed throughout the lessons. 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.
During practical work all students were actively engaged, worked safely, applied themselves and sustained concentration. Collaborative work was particularly good. The practical activities were very effectively organised and supported the development of students’ understanding and skills. Teachers made the expectations clear and directed support where required. In one lesson, students used data-logging as a means of studying titration curves. Discussion with students consolidated student understanding of the concepts, particularly in the case where the equipment malfunctioned, resulting in students obtaining some inaccurate readings. In all instances where students were involved in practical activities, their progress and learning were reviewed at the end of the lesson. This is very good practice. Due care and attention was given to appropriate safety precautions, and students assisted the teacher in setting up and tidying away the materials and equipment. The successful development of practical skills, as students progress through the school, was evident in the manner in which they completed relevant tasks. This is commended. It is noteworthy that ICT was employed very effectively, as a means of review, in one practical lesson. In one instance, the theory lesson was interspersed with short practical activities. This commendably enhanced student participation and engagement in their learning.
The team teaching observed in one lesson, was seamless and very effectively employed, in developing lesson content, and in promoting student learning. The students showed good communication skills, responded well to questions, and outcomes in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes were good.
Formative assessment, for all classes, is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, by means of regularly assigned homework, topic tests, and in some instances, weekly tests. From examination of student copies, the work given to the classes was found to be sufficiently challenging and appropriate to ability levels. There was evidence of monitoring of homework. Consideration could be given to the desirable practice of teacher annotation, which reflects the principle of assessment for learning (afl). This practice is intrinsically valuable in enhancing the students’ role in their own learning. Information on afl can be accessed at www.ncca.ie.
All students have a laboratory notebook or folder 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 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.
Formal school-based assessments are scheduled at Christmas and May. The examination classes undertake mock examinations, during the spring term. Commercial pre-examination papers are adapted to suit the students’ needs, and subsequently corrected by the teachers themselves. School reports are sent to parents at Christmas, after the pre-examinations, and in June in order to communicate both graded results and overall progress. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually for each year group. Contact with parents is also maintained via the student journal. Commendably the school operates an open door policy in terms of communication with parents.
It is good to note that continuous assessment is the modus operandi in TY. Subject-specific statistical analysis of State examination results is carried out in the school and discussed at the staff meeting immediately succeeding the results.
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
Very thorough. We are pleased with the 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.
All proposed follow-up actions have either been undertaken or are in the process of being completed.