An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics and Science
Christian Brothers Secondary School
Mountgarrett, New Ross, County Wexford
Roll number: 63600F
Date of inspection: 22 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christian Brothers Secondary School, New Ross. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physics and Science 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.
Science is a core subject in the Christian Brothers Secondary School, New Ross. Classes are of mixed ability in first year and second year. In the current year the third-year group is divided into two smaller groups, one higher-level and one ordinary-level. However this is not a rigid arrangement as students are facilitated to move between groups depending on their achievements in assessments and examinations. Class groups generally retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle.
‘Taster’ courses in Physics and Biology were offered as part of the optional Transition Year programme in the school. Currently there is no Transition Year class group.
Subject specialist teachers advise third-year students on suitable choices for Leaving Certificate. Parents of third-year students are invited to an information meeting on subject choices for senior cycle. The guidance counsellor advises on third-level options and career choices. Option blocks are formed in which the vast majority of students get their desired choice. Physics, Chemistry Biology and Agricultural Science are offered currently at senior cycle. This is commended and demonstrates good management support for Science. There is currently one fifth-year class group in Physics, Chemistry and Agricultural Science and two class groups in Biology. In sixth year, Physics and Biology class groups have been formed. It is recommended that measures be taken to increase the uptake of Physics in the school, with particular emphasis on addressing the gender imbalance of the subject.
The time allocation to the Science subjects is satisfactory. However there is no double class period allocated to Science in first year. It is recommended in the interests of carrying out investigative practical work effectively that a double class period be assigned to first-year Science. Access to the laboratory is limited considering the wide range of Science subjects offered in the school. However most double class periods take place in the laboratory. This is commended.
There are three teachers in the Science department in the school all of whom teach junior-cycle Science. They keep themselves updated with the revised Science syllabus and some attend the junior cycle Science inservice programme.
There is one Science laboratory in the school with an adjoining preparation and storage area. The laboratory dates back to the early seventies and is in need of refurbishment. The board of management has applied to the Department of Education and Science for a new school. In the interim management is considering making an application to the Summer Works Scheme for laboratory refurbishment. This is commended.
The school health and safety statement dates back to 1996. It is recommended that this statement be reviewed and updated in the near future and that the Science teachers are consulted as part of the process. Safety equipment including fire extinguishers, fire blankets and a gas isolation switch has been installed.
A substantial part of the junior cycle Science grant has not been spent to date. Many basic items of apparatus are needed in order to teach the practical elements of the syllabus effectively. It is recommended that the entire junior cycle Science grant be spent on essential items of apparatus without further delay. It is important in this regard that teachers meet to prioritise the needs of their classes.
A computer and data projector are available in the laboratory. Datalogging equipment is also available and it is used in some practical investigations in Physics. Broadband internet access is currently available. Some teachers take their class groups to the computer room. The Science teachers feel confident in using Information and Communications Technology (ICT) with their students. Concepts are taught in some classes using animations and applets. This is commended.
School development planning is ongoing and there has been a recent focus on subject planning. The Science department had one planning meeting in 2005 as part of this process. There is no Science co-ordinator and the Science teachers generally meet informally. It is recommended that a Science co-ordinator be appointed on a rotating basis so that department planning can be streamlined. In addition it is recommended that formalised planning meetings take place. The outcomes of these meetings should be recorded, there should be an agreed agenda and minutes should be relayed to school management. Items discussed could include the sharing of teaching and learning aids, the provision and management of equipment and resources, laboratory access and organisation, textbooks, best use of ICT, health and safety, and assessment.
A Science plan should be formulated as part of the school development planning process. This would have the benefit of documenting existing Science policy and planning for the future of Science in the school. In this way issues such as the take up of Physics and other senior Science subjects could be addressed. Other issues worth addressing include Science co-ordination, timetabling of classes, materials and resources, best practice, common assessment, agreed learning outcomes and curricular provision.
Lessons observed were well prepared. This is commended. Practical equipment was ready in advance and as a result teaching and learning were enhanced. However there was little documentary evidence of term and yearly planning. It is recommended that teachers draw up term and yearly plans for their classes. These plans should include details of topics to be covered within given timeframes, methodologies implemented including ICT, assessment modes, field trips and possible co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.
A good rapport existed in all classes which created a strong atmosphere of learning. Students were generally addressed by name and an atmosphere of mutual respect existed. Teachers were sensitive to the wide range of abilities in their classes. Individual attention was given by the teachers to the students when necessary. This is highly commended.
The lessons observed had a clear structure. The whiteboard or blackboard was used effectively in most classes to highlight key concepts during the lessons, to introduce a topic and to summarise at the conclusion of the lesson. For example when students were testing if a range of objects would sink or float, the investigation was enhanced by a clearly constructed table on the whiteboard. There were other instances where mathematical problems were clearly laid out on the whiteboard and the concepts explained with clarity.
Effective use of questioning was observed in most lessons. Specific questions were asked about previously learned material and more open-ended probing questions were used to stimulate interest and to link the content of the lesson to students’ everyday experiences. Some students were passive and did not fully participate. It is recommended that teachers use more individually targeted questions in order to enhance the level of participation in learning of the entire class group. Many questions were asked by the students and these were answered skilfully and in some cases led to general discussion.
Investigative practical work formed part of some lessons observed. A truly investigative approach was adopted. For example students, when testing their predictions by investigation, learned that their predictions are not always correct and learned good scientific principles. The students worked collaboratively and each group received continuous and comprehensive help and support. For example ICT in the form of a datalogging system was used to measure acceleration due to gravity. The students were encouraged to analyse the results and to repeat the experiment in order to improve accuracy. This is commended. A sense of motivation existed and a good environment for learning and teaching existed. The work of the teachers in this regard is commended.
Demonstrations were carried out in some lessons observed. For example where students were constructing electronic configuration diagrams of atoms the structures of magnesium and oxygen atoms were discussed and outlined on the blackboard. To consolidate the learning experience a piece of magnesium ribbon was burned in the air and the results were discussed with the class. There was another example where some of the apparatus of a planned experiment was brought to the classroom for discussion. The clear emphasis on the practical elements of Science and Physics is commended.
Affirmation of work well done was evident in all lessons observed. Students were encouraged to succeed and responded positively. Motivation was generally high and interest was maintained. The work of the teachers in this regard is highly commended.
In the majority of classes visited during the subject inspection many students were not present. This was reported to be due to pre-arranged sporting events. In some cases over half the students were absent. It is recommended that this practice be reviewed so as to maximise the attendance of students in class.
Written reports are sent to parents following the formal examinations at Christmas and summer. In addition progress reports are issued in October. An annual parent-teacher meeting is held for each year group. Junior and Leaving Certificate classes sit ‘mock’ examinations in February. In addition to formal examinations teachers use end-of-chapter tests and end-of-topic tests as a means of assessment.
Class questioning is used to assist with ongoing assessment and revision. Students were generally confident at answering questions on their work during the lessons observed.
Practical notebooks varied in standard. In some cases it was evident that teachers had checked the quality of the notebooks. It is recommended that the practical notebooks be annotated with useful comments for improvement and affirmation of work well done. It is important that there is a follow up process to ensure that corrections are completed. In addition it is recommended that teachers give credit for practical work completed and record this in school assessments. This would encourage better standards and would reflect the aims and objectives of the revised Science syllabus.
Written homework was assigned at the conclusion of some lessons observed. A homework journal exists whereby teachers and parents can communicate regarding the students’ work, progress and attendance. Slips are issued at the teacher’s discretion if homework is not completed. Detention may follow if the problem remains unresolved.
Students are well supported by the school. The guidance counsellor draws up a study plan for students and a three-teacher student welfare committee plays a pastoral role in the school. A study skills seminar has been organised for third, fifth and sixth-year groups. Supervised study is organised for those wishing to avail of this facility. The board of management supports the annual academic awards. In addition there are subject certificate awards issued by the school. The encouragement by the school in this regard is commended.
It is important that students are given the opportunity to pursue co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. A dedicated Science student notice board would expose students to the many activities and competitions available. It is recommended that students be encouraged to take part in such activities.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of Physics and Science at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management is very pleased with the content of this report as it affirms the high quality of teaching and learning that takes place in our school.
In particular the Board was happy to read that the report commended or highly commended several aspects of science tuition and support for the students. These included the points that lessons were well prepared, that there was a good rapport in all classes and a strong atmosphere of learning and of mutual respect between teachers and students exists and that sensitive and individual attention was given to students where necessary.
In addition the fact that a truly investigative approach to practical work was dominant, allied with a high level of motivation among students where they were encouraged to succeed and responded positively further confirmed the good work that we know is carried out daily in these subject areas.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board accepts and intends to implement as soon as possible all of the recommendations contained in the report.
A Science Co-ordinator will be appointed at the beginning of the next school year to co-ordinate the areas of planning, teaching, learning and assessment within the subject department. The uptake of Physics and the gender imbalance of the subject will also be addressed here.
Class allocation for First Year Science has been increased from three to four periods from next September, including a double class. The three first year classes next year will be below the twenty-four student limit to maximise student participation in practical activities.
The Health and Safety statement will be reviewed as soon as possible as part of normal school planning.
The remainder of the Science grant will be spent during the next academic year. The grant has not been fully spent to date as the teachers were anxious to ensure, after in-service, that only the most appropriate items of apparatus would be purchased.
The school’s policy on Co-curricular activities is the subject of ongoing review.