An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Roll number: 64290V
Date of inspection: 03 October 2007
Date of issue of report:† 21 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil Mhuire. 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 principal. †††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.
Ardscoil Mhuire is an all-girlsí voluntary secondary school located in Corbally, Limerick. The school benefits from supports provided by the Department of Education and Science under the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools programme.
There is good support for the study of Science as shown by the fact that it is a core subject. Science forms a component of the schoolís Transition Year (TY) programme and this is to be commended as good practice. Exposure to science subjects during the TY programme can help students to make better-informed subject choices at senior cycle and can help to develop their skills and knowledge in Science and support positive attitudes to studying it.
The school strives to satisfy studentsí subject choices at senior cycle and it creates subject options based on a survey of studentsí preferences. This is good practice. Biology and Chemistry are available each year as subject choices and given the size of the school this level of provision is adequate. It is noted that there was no demand from students for Chemistry in the current academic year. There is a good uptake of Biology and this suggests positive attitudes among students to studying it. Based on discussions with the science teachers where they described their desire to increase the number of students choosing science subjects it is to be encouraged that they utilise the subject-planning process to investigate the factors that influence studentsí subject choices and devise a formal strategy to promote all science subjects at senior cycle.
Based on data supplied by the school, the issue of choice of subject level for the Junior Certificate Science examination was discussed and it is to be encouraged that all students take the examination at the highest possible level. During the feedback meeting, school management described its desire to promote opportunities for all students to study Science at higher level and this is reflective of setting high expectations for students. In this context and in conjunction with devising a strategy to promote science subjects at senior cycle it is recommended that the science staff considers further ways of encouraging more students to study Science at higher level.
The evaluation revealed that streamed class groups are created for Science at Halloween of first year. The school reports that it is possible for students to move among class groups and the existence of such flexibility is to be commended. Based on analysis of information relating to studentsí attainment it is evident that there is a need to increase levels of participation in higher-level Science. In this context, the use of mixed-ability groupings can help to increase studentsí and teachersí expectations of studentsí levels of attainment. This is particularly relevant in the case of students who may not have positive attitudes towards school as the use of streamed class groups can lead to lower expectations of achievement among students and teachers. Thus, it is recommended that the school explore the use of mixed-ability groupings for all science class groups. Useful advice relating to class groupings, working with students with special educational needs and teaching in a mixed-ability setting can be found in the Department publication Inclusion of Students with Special Educational Needs Post-Primary Guidelines.
The current total time allocation for Science is marginally less than the minimum allocation recommended by the syllabus and it is recommended that the school address this issue. Discussion with school management revealed a commitment to address this issue and to ensure that the time allocation for all students studying Science will meet the recommendations of the syllabus.
There are two science laboratories in the school and they have a shared preparation room. These facilities were viewed and they are in good condition. The science teachers have done good work in organising the preparation room and in storing and labelling chemicals according to Department guidelines.
The school has a health and safety statement that is reviewed periodically. Ongoing monitoring of health and safety issues by designated personnel assists in ensuring that the school is in compliance with its health and safety obligations. Annual review of the health and safety statement coupled with review as needs arise is good practice and is to be encouraged. It was reported that the science teachers were involved in reviewing the health and safety statement and this is good practice.
There is a satisfactory amount of information and communications technologies (ICT) resources available for the teaching of Science.
There is a range of supports in place for students with special educational needs. These supports include assistance from learning-support and resource personnel, printed resources, a homework club, study skills training, art therapy, and the School Completion Programme that is funded by the Department. The school has developed a range of awards that recognises studentsí achievements in a variety of school-related endeavours and this practice is to be commended. Rewarding students for their achievements helps to support positive self-esteem and positive attitudes towards school. In addition, the school has developed a system where first-year students are mentored by TY students. These initiatives show the professional care and commitment of the school to supporting its students. In building on the high level of care espoused by the school for its students it might be beneficial for the science staff to reflect on its own needs in the area of working with students with special educational needs and for formal liaison with the schoolís resource and learning-support personnel to be established to support these needs.
There is good support by the school for newly-appointed science teachers. They benefit through support from established subject teachers, school management, and supports that were provided through the schoolís participation in the Lucent Science Mentoring Initiative. There is good support for the science teachersí continuing professional development. All of the science teachers have attended the relevant in-service education courses at junior cycle and at senior cycle. In addition, the school has organised whole-school in-service courses on topics such as pastoral care of staff and students, assessment and learning, and managing challenging behaviour. Other supports for teachersí continuing professional development such as flexible timetabling and financial support are provided by the school. These good supports for teachersí continuing professional development are to be commended.
The science teachers work well together in a collaborative and collegial manner. The role of subject co-ordinator is rotated annually among the teachers and this is good practice as it supports shared, collective responsibility for the operation of the subject department. In addition, it empowers the science teachers by enabling them to experience a leadership role within their subject area. Analysis of the planning documentation that was supplied and interview with the teachers showed them to be reflective in their practices and committed and dedicated in their work.
The teachers frequently meet informally and they meet formally a number of times each year to plan and prepare for the teaching and learning of Science. The good practice of recording minutes of the decisions taken at formal meetings is to be commended as it helps to identify key issues and to ensure that these issues are addressed and progress made regarding them.
A copy of the science departmentís subject plan was viewed. This contained useful information to support the teaching and learning of Science and it was evident that good work has been done in drawing up this plan. A copy of the TY plan for one science subject was viewed. This document was summary in nature. It is recommended that the science teachers extend and further develop the TY Science plan and useful advice to support this work may be found at ty.slss.ie.
All lessons were appropriately planned and all materials had been prepared in advance and were to hand.
A range of teaching strategies and methodologies was used in the lessons observed. The most effective questioning style used was directed questioning. This style of questioning enabled teachers to engage individual students in considering and answering questions in a structured manner and to receive feedback on studentsí learning. The board was used effectively to highlight key learning points. Good practice was noted where recap and reinforcement of studentsí learning was used regularly during lessons and its use in all lessons is to be encouraged. Worksheets that had been prepared by the teacher helped students to focus on the main learning points, acted as a resource on the scientific terminology used and helped in developing studentsí scientific literacy. A particular emphasis on helping students to acquire the scientific terminology related to the topic they were studying was noted in a number of lessons and this good practice is to be commended.
Where students undertook experimental work it was performed safely. They worked well together and displayed good co-operation and team-working skills. In the lessons observed, students had a positive experience of practical work and in one lesson this was further enhanced by the inclusion of an investigative component in the work. In building on the current good practices relating to practical work it is advised that the science teachers share their experiences and expertise in using an investigative approach to science teaching and learning with a view to further developing its use in experimental work. Good practice was noted where students were involved in tidying up after their experimental work. This is to be commended as it encourages students to accept responsibility for their work and to plan appropriately for it.
There was good rapport among students and teachers and discipline was positively maintained in all lessons. A positive classroom atmosphere was supported by the relaxed but professional manner of the teachers. Teachers provided students with individual assistance where it was required. Teachers affirmed studentsí efforts in all lessons and this affirmation was effective in supporting and acknowledging studentsí efforts and motivation. In a number of lessons the frequency with which affirmation was used was very high and this helped to encourage all students in their work and to motivate all students to volunteer suggestions and answers.
In all lessons that were observed, students were engaged in their learning. A very notable feature of many of the lessons was the purposeful and focused manner in which the lessons were managed by teachers. Interaction between the inspector and students revealed that students had generally good levels of interest in the lesson topics and were generally competent and capable in answering questions on their work.
The school has appropriate arrangements in place to support regular assessment of studentsí learning and periodic reporting to parents. There are suitable systems in place that facilitate regular home-school communication and these include use of studentsí journals, homework memos, formal reports, parent-teacher meetings, information meetings, and a home-school-community liaison co-ordinator.
The science teachers have developed the practice of using common assessment when deciding on the make up of streamed class groups. The use of common assessments can support collaborative planning and enable refinements to be made to teaching methodologies based on feedback and analysis of attainment across class groups.
An analysis of the results obtained by students in the State examinations is performed each year and a copy of this is made available to each subject department. The use made of this analysis in conjunction with copies of examination papers, marking schemes, chief examinersí reports, and studentsí previous results to inform subject planning is good practice and is to be encouraged.
Samples of studentsí copybooks were viewed. Students, relative to their year group and point in the syllabus, had completed a satisfactory amount of experimental work. Examination of a sample of studentsí copybooks and homework journals showed that homework was regularly assigned. In some cases the main type of homework was learning by rote. It is advised that a variety of homework exercises will help to reinforce and optimise studentsí learning. Best practice was noted where there was regular monitoring of studentsí work and where advisory comments were provided on how to improve the work. The use of formative, advising comments is good practice as it is reflective of Assessment for Learning principles and is in keeping with the assessment policy viewed as part of the teachersí science plan. Based on discussion with teachers and the samples of studentsí work that were viewed, it is advised that the science teachers develop the practice of rewarding students for the completion and for the quality of their homework. This practice should prove useful in encouraging a high level of completion of homework and in motivating all students to produce work of a high quality.
Good practice was noted where studentsí write up of their experimental work is graded by their teachers on a termly basis and where students receive recognition and reward for this work. In building on this good practice, it is recommended that the science teachers extend the current assessment and feedback practices to include reward for the practical skills gained by students through their experimental work.
The science teachers are to be commended for supporting a wide range of science-related extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. Their active facilitation of studentsí participation in such activities enhances studentsí experiences of science subjects and deepens studentsí understanding of Science in everyday life.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ The science teachers are reflective in their practices and are committed and dedicated in their work.
∑ There is good collegiality and collaboration among the science teachers.
∑ A range of teaching strategies and methodologies was used in the lessons observed.
∑ In all lessons, students benefited from individual assistance provided by their teachers.
∑ There was good rapport among students and teachers and discipline was maintained in all lessons.
∑ Science is a core subject and science subjects form a component of the schoolís TY programme.
∑ The science facilities are in good condition.
∑ There are appropriate assessment and reporting arrangements in place.
∑ There are good support structures for newly-appointed teachers and good support for teachersí continuing professional development.
∑ The science teachersí support for studentsí participation in science-related extra-curricular and co-curricular activities is acknowledged and is to be commended.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ It is recommended that the school explore the use of mixed-ability groupings for all science class groups.
∑ In conjunction with devising a strategy to promote science subjects at senior cycle it is recommended that the science staff consider further ways of encouraging more students to study Science at higher level.
∑ It is recommended that the science teachers extend and further develop the TY Science plan and useful advice to support this work may be found at ty.slss.ie.
∑ It is recommended that the science teachers extend the current assessment and feedback practices to include reward for the practical skills gained by students through their experimental work and reward for the completion and quality of homework.
A post-evaluation meeting was held 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 welcomes the recommendations of this inspection and we feel the recommendations reflect the priorities and aspirations of the Science Department and the school