An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry
Kilfinane, County Limerick
Roll number: 64130W
Date of inspection: 14 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Pól. 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.
There is good support for the study of Science as it is a core subject at junior cycle. The science subjects at senior cycle are Leaving Certificate Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Chemistry is an optional subject at senior cycle. Subject choice at senior cycle is student driven and this is good practice. There is good support for students in making their senior cycle subject choices. This support includes access to career guidance during third year, an information night for parents, and information and advice from subject teachers.
There is a generally good uptake of science subjects at senior cycle. It is noted that more girls than boys take Biology. To further encourage uptake of science subjects at senior cycle it is recommended that the school examine the factors influencing students’ choice of subjects. The results of this examination should inform future subject and curricular planning and support subject uptake among boys and girls in the sciences at senior cycle.
All class groups are of mixed ability. At junior cycle and correspondingly at senior cycle, classes generally retain the same teacher. This is good practice as it supports continuity of learning.
The time allocation for both Science and Chemistry is appropriate and meets the recommendations of the syllabus.
There is a culture of support for students with special educational needs. Individual education plans are drawn up and implemented. This is best practice. There is awareness among the science staff of students’ special education needs and there is provision for students’ needs in the State examinations.
The school has two science laboratories with an adjoining preparation area. The facilities are clean, well maintained, and in good repair. The science staff has done very good work in organising the storage of equipment and materials.
Equipment and materials are ordered on a needs basis. Satisfaction is reported with the outcome of requests for the purchase of such resources. A system for recording all purchases and a stocktake system are in place to manage equipment and materials. This is good practice.
The school has a health and safety statement in place. A health and safety committee deals with all matters in this area as they arise. The school reported its intention to undertake formal review of its health and safety statement soon. It is recommended that the school undertake the review of its health and safety statement and that such review occur annually or more regularly as needs arise.
There is a satisfactory level of ICT equipment available to the science teachers. This includes broadband internet access, a desktop computer, two notebook computers, data logging equipment, printer/scanner/copier/fax, and two data projectors. Interview showed that the science staff has a positive attitude to the use of ICT in aiding teaching and learning. Effective use was made of ICT in the lessons observed.
There is good support for teachers’ continuing professional development. Teachers have been facilitated in attending all relevant science in-service education courses. Good support for whole-staff in-service education is shown by the fact that courses have been organised in areas such as classroom management strategies, code of behaviour, and guidance planning. During this year, further courses are planned in the areas of special educational needs and differentiation strategies. This good work evidences a positive ethos of supporting teachers’ continuing professional development and is commended.
The school has actively engaged with the process of school development planning and has accessed support from the School Development Planning Initiative support service. Good progress has been achieved in school development planning, key policies are in place, and work is progressing in developing further policies. It is reported that the planning process includes review mechanisms and this is commended as good practice.
It was evident during the inspection that there was an established culture of planning in the subjects inspected. The science staff have met formally and informally to plan for teaching and learning of the sciences. There is a high level of beneficial collaboration among the science teachers. Thus, the science department is well organised and progressive.
A comprehensive subject plan was presented. This was a well-considered plan and dealt appropriately with the issues relevant to the work of the science department and science students. The good work of the science staff in developing and implementing this plan is commended.
All lessons observed were appropriate to the relevant syllabus. All materials were to hand and had been appropriately prepared in advance. Teachers displayed a high level of subject matter expertise in the topics under study and this showed a high level of individual lesson preparation and planning.
Beneficial, well-established classroom routines were observed. Lessons generally started with the checking of homework. This practice enabled teachers to affirm students’ efforts, to receive feedback on students’ knowledge and understanding, and to build on previous learning.
The methodologies observed included questioning, use of ICT-based presentations, use of whiteboard, teacher-led demonstration, worksheets, diagrams, overhead projection slides, student note taking, student performance of practical work, checking of homework, and discussion. Very effective use was made of these methodologies. It was noted that lessons remained focused on the key learning points and that these were made clear to students. This is good practice.
Where practical work was observed it was performed safely. Important safety points were appropriately brought to students’ attention in advance of commencing the work. Students’ observation skills were encouraged. This is good practice as accurate observation is a key component of scientific investigation. Clear instructions were given at all times. Students were involved in setting up for and tidying up after their experimental work. This is good practice as it encourages students to plan for their work and to accept responsibility for its conduct and completion. Students were well supported by their teachers who circulated, guided, and advised while students worked. This approach is commended as it serves to meet students’ individual learning needs. Good scientific practice was observed where students were encouraged to record their observations as they worked.
Discipline was sensitively maintained in all lessons. Very good use was made of affirmation. Students were addressed by name. There was a relaxed learning environment in all lessons observed. All students’ questions were dealt with affirmatively and sensitively. It was noted that students engaged respectfully with their teachers and that there was an ease of communication between students and teachers. It was noted that teachers reflected care and concern not just for students’ academic progress but also for their social and personal development.
Some posters, models, glassware, and students’ work were displayed in the laboratories. These generated a sense of a scientific learning space. Regular rotation and display of posters and recent students’ work are encouraged to sustain this beneficial atmosphere.
Students’ ideas were encouraged, accepted, and affirmed. Students were attentive and teachers encouraged student participation. There was a high degree of student participation in all lesson activities and students were engaged in their learning.
Very good practice was observed where students were encouraged to think, consider, analyse, and synthesise opinions and answers during their learning. This assists students in developing higher-order thinking skills. Good practice was observed where teachers used students’ experiences and prior learning to introduce and develop new concepts. Observation of students’ responses to teachers’ questions, students’ questions, and interaction between the inspector and students showed that students had generally good levels of knowledge and understanding in the topics under study. Discussion with students revealed positive attitudes and interest in the sciences.
Students’ progress is assessed regularly and reports are sent home periodically. This is appropriate. Parents are informed of student progress through reports, parent-teacher meetings, letters, phone calls, and meetings by appointment. Where teachers are concerned about a student’s progress, they may invite parents to a second parent-teacher meeting later in the year. The student journal is also used as a means of communication between teachers and parents. These structures support a good level of home school communication.
Samples of students’ work including experimental copybooks, homework copybooks, homework journals, and students’ assessments were viewed. It was noted that homework is a regular feature of students’ learning. This is appropriate. The work viewed showed that teachers regularly monitored and corrected students’ work. Teachers recorded beneficial, formative comments during the correction of students’ work. This is very good practice. It was observed that students have, relative to their ages and year groups, completed a satisfactory amount of work. A small minority of copybooks viewed would have benefited from a greater level of student correction and student completion of labelled diagrams of apparatus used in experimental work.
It is noted that teachers keep appropriate records. Such records include data on students’ attendance, results, and punctuality.
The science staff has used common assessment formats and this shows a good level of collaboration and teamwork. Common assessment might be used to beneficially support the subject planning process by informing comparison and analysis of student attainment across a year group.
All students are encouraged to study Science and Chemistry at the highest possible level. In reflecting the fact that individual rates of academic attainment vary, the good work of the school in striving to meet students’ individual needs is evident as students who have studied Science at ordinary level for the Junior Certificate are afforded the opportunity to take science subjects at higher level in senior cycle. Teachers, appropriately, advise students on their choice of level for the State examinations.
The main methods used in assessing students’ performance of practical work include feedback to students as they work and monitoring of students’ write up of their work. It is noted that teachers also monitor how well students transfer their learning from laboratory work to homework exercises. The science staff is encouraged to build on this good practice by considering further assessment strategies that give credit for student performance of practical work.
The analysis of student outcomes in State examinations is undertaken by the science teachers and by the principal. This is good practice as such analysis may, in conjunction with relevant marking schema, chief examiners’ reports, and examination papers, usefully inform the subject planning process.
There is very good support for students’ participation in a range of science-related, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. These activities include participation in Salter’s Festival, Chemistry club, science quizzes, Young Scientist and Technology exhibition, and open night displays of science activities. Teachers’ work in supporting students in such activities is highly commended.
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 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
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of management wishes to express its appreciation for the in-depth report and positive review of Science and Chemistry teaching in Scoil Pól, Kilfinane. The Board notes the consistent good practice referred to in the report in both these subjects areas. The Board commends the non-intrusive, thorough and professional nature of the inspection. We are also well pleased that the report acknowledges the manner in which the Science department meets the individual needs of all students.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection