An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Curragh Post-Primary School
MacSwiney Road, Curragh, Co. Kildare
Roll number: 70660O
Date of inspection: 31 January and 1 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Curragh Post-Primary School. 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 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 the 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.
The evaluation of Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology at Curragh Post-Primary School was carried out over the course of two days. It commenced with a visit to a double fifth-year biology class. This visit was followed by a meeting with the principal and then with the teachers of Science and Biology. At this meeting, the objectives and procedures of the evaluation were explained. Following this, a double sixth-year biology class, a single first-year and a single third-year Science class were observed.
Junior Certificate Science is a core subject for first-year students. On entering second year, students must choose a combination of Science and Home Economics on the one hand or a combination of Materials Technology Wood and Technical Graphics on the other. There has been a marked tendency for girls to take the former option and for boys to take the latter. This has resulted in very few boys taking Science. Subject options for Leaving Certificate are similarly biased with one of the choices being a combination of either Biology and Home Economics or Construction Studies and Technical Drawing. It is permitted for students to take up Biology in fifth year, not having studied Science to Junior Certificate. The option of following the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is also available to those students with an appropriate subject combination.
It is strongly recommended that the subject options available to second-year students be revised in order allow students to choose from a much less restricted set of options and to eliminate the gender bias that currently exists. It is important that changes made are then reflected in the subsequent choices offered to senior cycle students.
First-year science classes are allocated three single periods per week. This increases to four periods, in the form of one double and two single periods per week, for second and third year. The allocation for first year is below syllabus recommendations but the school feels that, as classes tend to be small in second and third year, the time can be made up. Leaving Certificate biology classes are allocated one double and two single periods per week, which is in line with syllabus recommendations.
There are two qualified teachers of Science and Biology in the school. Opportunities have been availed of for continuing professional development during recent and current national in-service training programmes in Leaving Certificate Biology and Junior Certificate Science. Management is commended on the commitment given to facilitate attendance at in-service training. The school also funds membership of one professional association for every teacher, including membership of the Irish Science Teachers Association (ISTA) for one of the science teachers. The school encourages active participation by students in the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, in Science Week and the science teachers also organise appropriate trips for science students to the zoo, the bog and a recycling depot. The work of the science teachers in this regard is praiseworthy.
There is one science laboratory in the school. Although it is very old, the best possible use is being made of it. It is due to be renovated as part of the summer works scheme for 2007. There is a small storage area located adjacent to the laboratory where a range of chemicals is appropriately stored. This area is also in need of upgrading. Almost all science classes are held in the laboratory. Resources available include an overhead projector, a television, video and DVD player, a desktop computer and a large number of charts, posters and newspaper cuttings. It is suggested that the inclusion of some student-developed posters and charts would serve to enhance the learning environment and to motivate students.
A range of health and safety equipment was observed, including a fire extinguisher and fire blanket, a first aid kit, a fume cupboard, an electrical isolation switch, safety glasses and laboratory coats and hand-wash facilities. A high priority was given to the active management of safety issues during student practical work, as evidenced by the wearing of laboratory coats by the students when appropriate. This is praiseworthy. The school has a health and safety statement that was drawn in conjunction with Co. Kildare VEC. The statement is updated every two years and outside consultants assist in the process. A risk assessment of the laboratory has been recently updated by the science teachers also. It is recommended that laboratory safety signs and notices be prominently displayed, for the benefit of students.
There is evidence of a strong sense of collegiality among the science teachers. There is no recognised co-ordinator for Science in place. However, frequent informal meetings of the science teachers take place and together they carry out all curriculum planning, stock control, equipment ordering and laboratory management duties as a team. The science teachers deserve credit for the amount of work done. Funding for the sciences is provided as requested and management has been very supportive to date.
Long-term curricular planning documents were presented in relation to all junior cycle science classes and for fifth- and sixth-year Biology. These plans are based on the new Junior Certificate science and Leaving Certificate biology syllabuses, to which reference is made. The planning documents include a list of coursework topics, including the practical activities associated with each topic. This is praiseworthy. However, the plans are out of date and need to be revised. It is recommended that, in the revision of these plans, topics be listed for teaching on a term-by-term basis. It is recommended, also, that teaching methodologies should be included in planning documents in order to raise teachers’ consciousness of the variety of methodologies available to them and to ensure that teachers do not unwittingly restrict themselves to a preferred dominant style of teaching and to ensure that material is always taught in a manner appropriate to the material itself and to the students being taught.
In the classes observed there was evidence of short-term planning. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter of their lessons and there was a theme running through each lesson. Materials necessary for class and for student-centred investigative work had been prepared in advance. This preparation contributed to the quality of learning and is praiseworthy.
In all classes visited, there was a disciplined atmosphere. Rapport with students was very good and this is to be commended. Teachers were enthusiastic, warm, patient and considerate of students. Their approach to their work was professional and business-like and a good learning environment was evident in all lessons observed. Good progress was made in all lessons. The level of two-way communication in classrooms was relevant to the task at hand. Students were always attentive, interested and anxious to participate in the learning process. The topics covered in the classes observed included the digestive system, genetics, plant reproduction and the energy content of foods.
A range of teaching methodologies was observed, including use of the black board, questioning, student worksheets, student practical work and teacher explanations. There was a good balance between active learning methodologies and teacher-centred presentations in all classes. Lessons were well structured and students were kept busy and actively engaged at all times. 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. Continuity from previous lessons was good and new information was very well linked to previous learning. There was good direction and follow through in the lessons observed. Lessons were well planned and had a clear focus. This is excellent practice.
Some very effective use of questioning as a methodology was observed. Questions were simple to begin with, but deeper and more probing questions followed on from the students’ replies, challenging them to think at a deeper level. Students were given time to analyse questions and formulate their answers. This is good practice. Teachers must be careful, however, to include all students in such interactions. Directing questions to individual, named students for a response is a very useful means of encouraging all students to engage actively in a lesson. A greater amount of teacher movement among the students, especially during the more theory-based sections of a lesson, will assist in the inclusion of all students and will help maintain the good level of attention and engagement that was observed. Extensive use was made of the blackboard for diagrams, key words and to emphasise points being made by teachers. There was scope at times for the use of an overhead projector or a data projector instead, to add variety to presentations and to facilitate teacher movement.
Excellent practice was observed in the emphasis placed by all teachers on homework. Homework was checked and corrected or handed up at the beginning of all lessons. Homework was also given, appropriate to the lesson content, at the end of every lesson and was designed to assist the student in learning and retaining the topic. Good practice concerning the minimal use of textbooks was apparent during all lessons. Textbooks were mainly used for background reading by students and to assist in homework.
In order for students to make better progress and gain a better understanding of their course of study, it is suggested that students are made aware of the objectives of the lesson at the outset of each class period. Students may work better if they are more informed as to where a lesson is leading and where it fits into the larger picture. This can be motivating and informative as well as giving a sense of purpose and direction to classroom work. These lesson objectives should be clear, concise and achievable. They can encourage a degree of self-assessment by students within the class and help individuals to monitor their own progress.
Students demonstrated a positive attitude towards Science and Biology as evidenced by the level of engagement and interest observed during the lessons visited. 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 and through correction of homework. A greater amount of teacher movement among the students, as already stated, especially during the more theory-based sections of a lesson, would help teachers get a more in-depth view of individual student performance and help tailor specific on-the-spot interventions and supports for students.
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 and Biology. It is noted that all teachers examined and corrected the laboratory notebooks very frequently. This excellent practice has resulted in the notebooks being of a very good standard. This is an important means of encouraging students and of pointing the way towards improvement.
All classes are assessed by means of a Christmas examination. Formal assessments are held for non-examination classes in the summer. Questions on mandatory practical work are included in these examinations. It is suggested that in-house examination papers and procedures are matched closely to the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate in order to familiarise students with these examinations. The certificate examination classes sit mock examinations in the spring. These scripts are assessed internally in most cases. Additional testing is at the discretion of individual teachers. Records of assessment are held in teachers’ own diaries and in report books in the school office.
Results of assessments and progress reports are communicated to parents by means of Christmas and summer reports, and following mock examinations. Communication with parents is also achieved by means of parent-teacher meetings. A first meeting is held for parents of third- and sixth-year students in October and a second meeting is held in March. A meeting for parents of first-, second- and fifth-year students is held in January. The timing of these meetings is in accordance with Department of Education and Science regulations. In addition, the student journal that all students are required to keep is used to communicate with parents. Parents are also encouraged to contact the school as needed if they have any concerns regarding the progress of their children.
There was evidence of very good record keeping by teachers, covering such areas as student attendance, assessments and work completed. This is good practice. The recorded information can be used to build up student profiles and can form the basis of very useful evidence in communicating student progress to parents and in advising both students and parents on choice of subjects at senior level and on what level of examination paper to choose in certificate examinations.
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 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
In house written exams do follow format of state exam papers. In future teachers will allocate marks for mandatory experimental copies
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.