An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Glenstal Abbey School
Murroe, County Limerick
Roll number: 64150F
Date of inspection: 01 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Glenstal Abbey School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the deputy 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.
Glenstal Abbey School is a fee-paying, all boysí boarding school under the auspices of the Benedictine order and it is situated in Murroe, Co. Limerick.
The science subjects in the school are Junior Certificate (JC) Science, Transition Year (TY) Science, Leaving Certificate (LC) Biology, LC Chemistry, and LC Physics. Thus, students may study a wide range of science subjects. There is good support for the study of Science as all students study it during the junior cycle. A large number of students study science subjects at senior cycle.
All students follow the TY programme in this school. An outline of the TY Science programme was viewed. The programme is based on a modular approach and includes varied topics that span a range of contemporary issues in Science. The good work done by the science teachers in developing an innovative and interesting science programme is commended. The TY programme also affords students the opportunity to sample a variety of work experiences. It is reported that students are facilitated in gaining work experience in science and technology industries. This means that students are more informed about potential career options when making their senior-cycle subject choices.
It is reported that the subject options available at senior cycle are driven by studentsí choices. This shows that the school is responsive to studentsí needs and this is commended. A variety of supports is available to assist students in making their senior-cycle subject choices. These supports include subject sampling during the TY programme, aptitude testing, guidance counselling and liaison with parents.
The school recently reviewed its time allocation for Science and increased the number of class periods during second year to four lesson periods weekly. The time allocation for Science currently consists of three single lesson periods weekly in first year and one double lesson period and two single lesson periods weekly in second year and in third year. It is noted from the syllabus and circular letters M7/03 and M42/04 that ďthe syllabus is predicated on some 240-270 hours of class contact time over the three years of junior cycle (normally equivalent to four class periods per week)Ē. Thus, the school is encouraged to continue its review of the time allocated to Science by adding an additional lesson period for Science during first year. At the end of every month the school takes a half day on Friday and returns the following Tuesday. As students are away from home for a month at a time, this enables students to return home for a long weekend. Interview revealed that the science teachers have considered the impact that the loss of time due to the long weekend might have on students, particularly if a double lesson period is scheduled for the Friday or Monday. It is recommended that the school, in its review of the time allocation for Science, continue to give consideration to how any potential time loss may be avoided. The time allocation for all senior-cycle science subjects is appropriate.
All science classes are of mixed ability. Classes generally retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle and this is good practice as it supports continuity of learning.
The school supports students with special educational needs in a proactive manner. Students with special educational needs are identified as early as possible. The school receives an allocation of hours from the Department of Education and Science to support these students. In addition, it privately funds a number of hours to further support students in their learning. There is a learning support team in the school and team members disseminate a comprehensive report on studentsí individual learning needs. This report is of use to teachers in developing suitable strategies for students. Members of the learning support team have advised the science teachers on strategies that would work well with individual students. In building on this good practice, it is recommended that future work focus on developing this liaison and supporting the exchange of information on methodologies and strategies for use with students with special educational needs. This could usefully take place within the subject planning process.
There are three science laboratories in the school. Two of the laboratories have a shared preparation area. All of these facilities were viewed. The facilities are of older construction but are functional and in generally good repair.
It was reported that all science lessons take place in a laboratory and this is commended as it places students in a scientific learning environment that facilitates their learning. When lessons take place in a laboratory it enables teachers to engage students in an investigative approach to the study of Science due to ease of access to equipment and chemicals.
The school has, appropriately, a health and safety statement. It was reviewed during 2006. It is reported that the health and safety statement is subject to ongoing review and this is appropriate. The science teachers have been actively involved in drawing up and reviewing the health and safety statement and this involvement is wholly appropriate. There is a high level of commitment among the science teachers to ensuring a safe working environment. Good work has been done in organising the science laboratories and preparation area and this work is commended. In building on this work, it is recommended that the school review the storage of chemicals, materials, and equipment and ensure that they are stored in accordance with best safety practice and Department of Education and Science guidelines. In building on the current management systems for equipment and materials it is advised that a combined stock list and annual stocktake would be of benefit.
There is a satisfactory amount of information and communications technology (ICT) equipment available to the science teachers. This equipment includes computers in all of the laboratories, broadband internet access, data projectors in two laboratories and data logging equipment. In addition, teachers may bring their classes to the schoolís computer room for whole-class teaching. Students and teachers have individual log in access to the schoolís computer network. There is a shared folder available to the science teachers on the computer network and they have placed science material in this folder and made it available to students. This enables students to supplement the notes taken during lessons and to develop greater autonomy in their learning. These are beneficial uses of the available ICT resources.
There is an annual budget allocated for the purchase of materials and resources in Science. There is satisfaction among the science teachers with the level of materials and resources available to them.
The school has engaged with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and there has been whole-staff in-service education on school development planning supported by an SDPI facilitator. There is a good level of pastoral support available to the staff from members of the associated Benedictine monastic community. There is good support for the science teachersí continuing professional development (CPD). They have been facilitated in attending all relevant Junior Science Support Service in-service education courses. The school endeavours to support staff members who wish to undertake further studies and in the past has contributed to the cost of teachersí studies. The good level of support for teachersí CPD is commended.
The science teachers enjoy a collaborative, professional working relationship. There is a positive sense of teamwork among them and this supports their work in planning for the teaching and learning of Science. They meet regularly, both formally and informally. Minutes of formal meetings are kept. Review of the minutes showed that good work has been accomplished in planning for the teaching of Science.
The science teachers have done good work in developing a subject plan. The science plan was viewed. It outlined the content to be covered with first year students and the timing of the delivery of that content. There is an agreement among all of the teachers of first-year science to follow the plan and to then use common assessment to assess studentsí progress. This good practice is to be encouraged. In building on the good work done in developing a common plan for first year, the science teachers are encouraged to continue their work in planning for the teaching and learning of Science by extending the plan to include all year groups and to include consideration of the areas of special educational needs and assessment practices.
All lessons observed were appropriate to the syllabus. All materials had been prepared in advance and were to hand. This is evidence of good short-term lesson planning. The good work done by the science teachers in planning and preparing for the teaching and learning of Science is commended.
The teaching methodologies used in the lessons observed included an ICT presentation, teacher-led demonstration, student performance of experimental work, written exercises, questioning, and use of the whiteboard.
The ICT presentation was clear and effective in illustrating the main concepts under study. While the teacher-led demonstration was appropriate to the topic under study, the fact that it involved small items meant that it was difficult for students to see everything in detail. This could be overcome through a variety of approaches such as using a magnifying display camera to gathering students around the workbench while the demonstration is taking place. The use of written exercises served to reinforce studentsí understanding of the topic under study. The whiteboard was used effectively to show a clearly labelled diagram and to highlight the key learning points of the lesson.
The most effective questioning style used was directed questioning. This style of questioning enabled teachers to pose a question to the entire class and to then select a student to answer the question. It enabled all students to consider the question and provided teachers with feedback on studentsí understanding while supporting a well-managed learning environment.
In all of the lessons observed, students undertook a large amount of practical work. It is evident, based on studentsí copies, that the performance of experimental work is a regular feature of the teaching and learning processes used. Before performing their experimental work, students were encouraged to predict the possible outcomes. This practice is beneficial as it engages students in considering the likely results of their work and develops their higher-order thinking skills. Good practice was observed where students were encouraged to observe and to note their observations. When students worked in groups they did so in a collaborative manner. Students were engaged in tidying up after their experimental work and this good practice is to be encouraged as it requires students to accept responsibility for their work. Teachers circulated around the laboratory as the students worked. They provided motivation, advice and a high level of individual support for students. This is to be commended.
In one lesson observed, there was good practice where the lesson topic was linked with studentsí previous learning and this enabled students to relate unfamiliar concepts to those that they already understood. In another lesson observed, there was an emphasis on encouraging studentsí autonomy in their work and this good practice supports students in developing pride in their work and in becoming more independent in their learning.
Good rapport between students and teachers was a very notable feature of the lessons observed. This was supported by the extensive use of affirmation of studentsí efforts. Students were addressed by their first name and their teachers dealt with their questions and comments in a positive manner.
Students were engaged in the work assigned to them during the lessons observed. They displayed generally good levels of knowledge and understanding in answering questions posed by their teachers and in posing questions on the topics under study. Interaction between the inspector and students revealed that they had generally good levels of knowledge and understanding of the topics studied. They showed a good level of interest in Science.
The school strives to keep parents or guardians informed of their sonís progress. There is regular monitoring and assessment of students with reports sent home frequently and an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year group. These structures support good home-school communication.
The school invites intending students to visit the school and to stay for a number of days in advance of enrolling. This is of benefit as it enables students to appreciate what it will be like to attend the school. In addition, the school holds a weekend in August when parents of students may come and stay in the school. This enables parents to gain first hand knowledge of how the school operates.
Samples of studentsí work were viewed. It was noted from studentsí copies that they write up their experimental work in their own words. This good practice is commended as it helps students to develop their scientific literacy and to create a personal record of the work they have completed. In assisting students to develop their procedures for the write up of their experimental work it is advised that they be encouraged to include a brief description of the planning they undertook in advance of the work. Samples of studentsí work from all class groups showed that they have completed a satisfactory amount of experimental work and that they regularly record this work. In samples viewed, there was evidence of best practice where regular monitoring, affirmative comments and formative feedback were used by science staff.
In some class groups, students are assigned homework on a regular basis while in other class groups students do not regularly receive written homework. It was explained that where students do not regularly receive written homework that there is a practice of impromptu assessment in operation and that this serves to motivate students in their study of the topics taught. Regular structured homework exercises provide valuable feedback to teachers on studentsí learning, assist students in focusing on the key learning objectives, and motivate students. Thus, it is recommended that the practice of regularly assigning homework to students be extended to all class groups.
Discussion with the science teachers revealed enthusiasm for considering and developing additional modes of assessing the skills gained by students when performing experimental work and of rewarding students for these skills. This is to be encouraged.
The science teachers provide a high level of support for studentsí participation in a range of science-related extra-curricular activities. Students have participated in Science Week, lectures in neighbouring third-level colleges, the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, TY Magic Show, and visits to educational events. Teachers also provide occasional additional science lessons. The good work done by the science teachers in supporting students is acknowledged and commended.
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 with the deputy principal who was acting as principal due to the principalís absence, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.