An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Kylemore Road, Ballyfermot, Dublin 10.
Roll number: 70240P
Date of inspection: 9 March 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Kylemore College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Biology 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 deputy principal and the subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
The location of Kylemore College has been recognised as an area of social and economic disadvantage. The school has been included in the current Delivering Equality of Opportunity in our Schools (DEIS) programme of the Department of Education and Science. A significant number of the student population have special educational needs. School-wide learning support and English as an additional language (EAL) classes are provided to support these students. Such issues bring their own challenges to the school and play a major part in subject provision and in subject choice for students at all levels.
Students are assessed prior to entry to Kylemore College and the results of these assessments are used to form class groups, based on student ability. In the junior cycle, Science is a core subject for the top stream in each year group. Students are monitored carefully and, following their assignment to their class groups, there is scope for changing streams for a limited period, to ensure all students are appropriately placed. This manner of provision should be kept under review to ensure that it is always the most appropriate means of dealing with circumstances and that it provides the best possible support for students. Classes tend to be smaller in the lower streams in order that students can be paid closer attention. This is good practice.
Following the Junior Certificate examination, all but a few students follow the compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme. Two class groups are formed, one of which will progress to the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme, and the other of which will progress to the Leaving Certificate programme. This latter class group follows a course in Biology and students who did not study Science in the junior cycle are provided with the foundation necessary to allow them to take up Biology for the Leaving Certificate. This is good practice. However, it is suggested that the school reconsider the use of streaming during TY as it is not in direct keeping with the ethos of the programme.
Subject choices for the Leaving Certificate are set by school management, subject to resources, student numbers and other relevant criteria. Biology and Art are offered as a Leaving Certificate subject in alternate years. Consequently, Biology is available in fifth year but not in sixth year at present. It is recommended that a means of providing a science subject to Leaving Certificate level, every year, be investigated.
All junior cycle science students receive three one-hour classes each week. TY students also receive three one-hour classes of Biology, while Leaving Certificate students are provided with four such classes each week. This school is commended for this generous provision.
Currently, there are three teachers of Science and Biology in the school and all are well qualified. Opportunities for continuing professional development have been availed of during recent and current national in-service training programmes. Management is commended on the commitment given to facilitating attendance at in-service training. It is suggested that all teachers join the Irish Science Teachers Association (ISTA), the professional body for science teachers, and it is suggested that school management examine ways to encourage such membership. Teachers are generally assigned to classes on a rota basis, but criteria such as continuity of contact and whether teachers are teaching another subject to a class are also considered. This is good practice.
The science and biology teachers, with the support of school management, are involved in a number of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. These activities are used as a means of stimulating interest in and supporting the sciences in the school. Activities include encouraging and supporting students to enter the BT Young Scientist and Technology exhibition, participating in visits to the zoo and museums, and taking part in science-related competitions and quizzes. Students are addressed by visiting speakers on occasion. Kylemore College has also participated in the Green Schools environmental education programme and has achieved a Green Flag award. The science teachers are commended for their work in providing students with these opportunities.
There are two science laboratories in the school. They are in good condition, well equipped and adequate for their purpose. There is a storage and preparation room adjacent to the laboratories. This area is well stocked and well ordered. Resources available to the science teachers include fixed data projectors and computers in each laboratory, along with broadband provision. The provision of such resources by management is to be commended. All science classes are held in the laboratory. A variety of posters and charts were observed on the laboratory walls, creating an appropriate and stimulating learning environment. It is suggested that more student-generated work be included and that the displays be changed occasionally, in line with the topics being taught, to highlight studentsí project work.
A range of health and safety equipment was observed, including, electricity isolation switches, fire blankets and fire extinguishers, eye-wash points and studentsí white coats. Displaying simple and direct laboratory rules in a more prominent manner will enhance this attention to safety, in particular when the laboratories are used, out of necessity, to accommodate other subjects. It is important also that first-aid kits are conveniently available in both laboratories. The school has a health and safety statement that was drawn up with appropriate consultation. This statement is reviewed annually and is due to be reviewed in the near future.
There is evidence of a strong sense of collegiality among the science teachers and a working science department is in place. Although a co-ordinator has not been appointed, embedded routines are operating smoothly and housekeeping tasks such as laboratory management, stock control and ordering of equipment are all managed co-operatively by the science teachers. The science teachers deserve credit for the amount of work done. It is recommended that a more formal science department be put in place, with a recognised co-ordinator. It is recommended that the co-ordinator lead the department in furthering the planning process. This position should also be rotated among the department members periodically. Funding for the sciences is provided as requested and management has been very supportive of such requests. This is commendable.
Two formal meetings of the science teachers take place each year, one in relation to text books and the other in relation to equipment and stock control. Frequent informal meetings of the science teachers also take place to manage ongoing issues and arrangements.
Individual teachers presented schemes of work for their current class groups. These all included schedules of work for the duration of the current school year, some in considerable detail, and records of topics covered to date. The teachers are commended for carrying out this valuable work. Building on the firm foundation of the work already completed, teachersí individual curricular plans should be merged into a formal three-year plan for implementing the Junior Certificate science course. This plan should include a schedule for the delivery of course content and should include a list of the mandatory activities, in order to facilitate the preparation of necessary resources. Planning for the integration of information and communications technologies (ICT) into teaching and learning should also be a part of this plan, as should planning for the use of differentiated teaching and learning strategies. Likewise, assessment, both formal and informal, should be planned for. In time, and building on the experience of junior cycle planning, a similar plan should be prepared for Leaving Certificate Biology.
A plan for the TY Biology course was also presented during the inspection.† It is recommended that the amount of Leaving Certificate Biology contained in the TY plan be carefully assessed to ensure that TY guidelines are not exceeded. It is suggested that the document Writing the Transition Year Programme, available from the TY support service at www.slss.ie, and Department of Education and Science circular M1/00 should be consulted for further information and guidance.
In the lessons observed, there was evidence of short-term planning and the topics being taught were in line with the planning documents presented. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter of their lessons and there was an identifiable theme running through each lesson. Materials and resources necessary for class had been prepared in advance. This preparation contributed to the quality of learning, and is praiseworthy.
In all lessons observed, good discipline was apparent. Rapport with students was good and this is to be commended. Teachers were enthusiastic, warm, patient and considerate of students. Teachers demonstrated a professional and business-like approach to work. The level of two-way communication in classrooms was relevant to the task at hand and a good learning environment was evident in all lessons observed. A high expectation for studentsí achievement was apparent and an atmosphere of affirmation and support of their efforts was evident at all times. Students were attentive, interested and eager to participate in the learning process and their behaviour was very good at all times.
There was a good balance between active learning methodologies and teacher-centred presentations in most lessons. A tendency to rely on traditional methodologies in some instances should be avoided and active participation of students in their own learning should be facilitated whenever possible. There was evidence of differentiation in the manner in which all lessons were conducted, and students were given opportunities to achieve according to their abilities. There was good use of scientific terminology in all lessons observed. †
Lessons were well structured and students were kept busy and actively engaged. Lessons proceeded at a suitable pace and changes in methodologies were built into lesson plans as appropriate. Students were challenged by lesson content and responded well. The topics covered in the lessons observed included metals, heat transfer, sound and genetics. Continuity from previous lessons was good and new information was well linked to previous learning. Lessons were well planned and had a clear focus. This is excellent practice.
Questioning of students was frequently used to check on levels of knowledge and understanding, which is to be commended. Questions ranged from the factual, testing recall, to questions of a higher order that were more challenging and encouraged students to think at a deeper level. When using directed questions, the respondent should be chosen after allowing time for students to compose their answers and raise their hands, thus encouraging all students to engage in this activity. Teachers were very affirming of student effort and were always encouraging and positive in correcting students with appropriate interventions. This is praiseworthy.
Of particular note was the manner in which ICT was used, in all lessons, and teachers are commended for the extensive bank of resources they have prepared. In one lesson observed, ICT was used in a lively and interactive manner, to demonstrate to students how to carry out a monohybrid cross and to give them the opportunity to put their learning into practice. The teacher was in constant circulation throughout the lesson, assisting students and affirming their efforts. This resulted in an interesting student-centred lesson, with a high level of motivation evident. Such an interactive lesson is an example of best practice in the use of ICT in teaching and learning.
It is recommended that clear learning goals be outlined to students at the outset of lessons. These goals should be concise and achievable. Expressing these goals in the form of learning outcomes can encourage a degree of self-assessment by students within the class and help individuals to monitor their own progress. Learning outcomes also provide a basis upon which teachers can summarise the lesson content at relevant stages during lessons, and again at the end the lesson, and upon which homework can be given.
Good practice concerning the minimal use of textbooks was apparent during the lessons observed. Reference to appropriate passages in textbooks was used to reinforce learning and to assist in homework preparation. Homework given was appropriate to the lesson content and was designed to assist students in learning and retaining the topic. Teachers should ensure that all students make use of their journals to record homework.
Students demonstrated a positive attitude towards Science and Biology as evidenced by the level of engagement and interest observed during the lessons observed. Students displayed a good level of knowledge, understanding and skills during interaction with the inspector. Formative assessment of students is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, through correction of homework and through teacher observation of students during lessons, as noted by the inspector. It is important for teachers to circulate around the classrooms, at appropriate times, to ensure that all students are included in interactions, and are monitored and supported as necessary. It is recommended that the approach of Assessment for learning (AfL) be examined and adopted as a means of enhancing teachersí capacity in monitoring student performance and responding to their needs. Further information on AfL can be found on the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie.
Students kept laboratory notebooks up to date as evidence of practical work being carried out. This is a very important aspect of new and revised syllabuses in Science. While the quality of many of the notebooks was excellent, particularly in classes where regular monitoring of these notebooks was evident, some were of a lesser quality. It is recommended that these notebooks, and studentsí homework copy books, be checked and positively annotated regularly, with particular attention being paid to students entering the results of each activity and drawing appropriate conclusions. This is an important means of encouraging students and of pointing the way towards improvement. It is also important that teachers follow up on instructions given to students on how to improve their work.
All non-certificate examination classes are assessed by means of formal examinations at Christmas and at the end of the school year. Sixth-year and third-year students are assessed at Christmas and by means of mock examinations in the spring. House examinations mirror the type of questioning used in the certificate examinations and some teachers allocate a portion of marks for the satisfactory completion of the studentsí practical notebooks. It is recommended that all teachers carry out this good practice. Additional testing is carried out frequently and at the discretion of the teachers.
Results of assessments and progress reports are communicated to parents by means of Christmas and summer reports for all first, second and fifth years, and following Christmas and mock examinations for third-year and sixth-year students. Communication with parents is also achieved by means of parent-teacher meetings, held once per year for each class. In addition, the student journal that all students are required to keep is used to communicate with parents. The school operates an open door policy and parents are encouraged to contact the school if they have any concerns regarding their childrenís performance.
There was evidence of good record keeping by teachers. Best practice was seen where the records included attendance, behaviour, assessment results, homework, and details of work covered, facilitating teachers to build up a profile of each student. Such recorded information can form the basis of very useful evidence when communicating studentsí progress to parents and in advising both students and parents on the choice of subjects for senior cycle and the appropriate level at which each subject should be taken.
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 Biology and with the principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2009