An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Biology
Kildare Vocational School
Kildare Town,Co. Kildare
Roll number: 70690A
Date of inspection: 7 December 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Kildare Vocational School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in 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 examined studentsí work. 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; a response was not received from the board.
Kildare Vocational School currently provides the Junior Certificate programme at junior cycle and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) at senior cycle for its cohort of sixty-two second-level students. The school has been included in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in our Schools (DEIS) programme of the Department of Education and Science. A significant proportion of the student population have special educational needs.
Science is a core subject for all junior cycle students. At senior level, Biology is a core subject for Leaving Certificate students. The subjects offered to senior students are arranged in order that all Leaving Certificate students qualify to follow the LCVP.
It was brought to the attention of the schoolís principal during the subject inspection that the current whole-school timetabling arrangements fall short of what is required with respect to instruction time as directed in the Department of Education and Science circular M29/95 Time in School.
Biology classes are allocated five class periods per week. This time allocation is in keeping with syllabus recommendations. In order to provide for the specific needs of students, all classes are single periods and are of mixed ability. Student numbers are small, facilitating the provision of specific supports to individual students.
Extra supports for students with special educational needs are provided through withdrawal for additional support and through the promotion of a visual approach to teaching. Consequently, the school has good information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and ICT is used extensively as a teaching tool.
The school has one teacher of Biology and Science who is well qualified and appropriately deployed. This teacher is also becoming involved in the provision of learning support and is well placed to adopt the very good approach to the teaching of Biology that was observed in the classroom during the evaluation. Management has facilitated attendance at continuing professional development (CPD) courses relevant to the sciences and to the provision of learning support.
There is one science laboratory in the school. Although old, it is well maintained and adequate for its purpose. All science and biology classes take place in the laboratory. There is no separate storage and preparation area associated with the laboratory. As a result, a portion of the back of the laboratory is used for this purpose. Although not ideal, this has not presented a problem due to the small size of classes. Displaying posters and charts on the laboratory walls helps to create an appropriate and stimulating visual learning environment. It is recommended that more student-generated work be displayed and that these displays be changed, occasionally, in line with the topics being taught.
The science department, with the support of school management, is involved in a number of extracurricular and co-curricular activities. These activities are used as a means of stimulating interest in and supporting the sciences in the school. Activities include bringing students to Dublin Zoo for the study of Ecology and attending biology practical revision sessions in NUI Maynooth. The science department is commended for its work in providing students with these opportunities.
Health and safety equipment was observed including a gas isolation switch, fire extinguishers, and studentsí white coats. Displaying simple and direct laboratory rules in a more prominent manner and providing fire blankets will enhance this attention to safety. The school has a health and safety statement that was drawn up with appropriate consultation. This statement has been reviewed within the past year and it is recommended that such a review be carried out annually.
A biology plan was presented for inspection. Included in the contents of this very good plan, which was based on the school development planning initiative template, is a schedule for the delivery of the biology course for the two years of senior cycle. Commendably, this schedule is based on and adapted from the Leaving Certificate biology syllabus. It describes the breakdown of the syllabus content into sections for delivery each term for the duration of senior cycle. Reference is also made, in the schedule, to ongoing assessment of students and provision is made to revise topics before the final examination. This is good practice. The science department is commended for the work carried out in compiling the biology plan.
In order to advance this good planning further over time, it is recommended that delivery schedules should ideally be shortened to reflect work to be covered in each half term in order to provide for a handover of classes should this become necessary, and should highlight mandatory practical activities in order to provide sufficient notice for the sourcing and preparation of necessary resources. Reference to specific differentiation and interventions in relation to students with additional needs should also be included to assist in planning for and providing the most appropriate supports for these students.
Short-term planning for the lessons observed was evident from the obvious familiarity of the teacher with the topics taught. A coherent theme was also present in each of the lessons. Prior preparation of the resources, materials and apparatus required for demonstration and student-centred investigative work was also evident. Such short-term planning and preparation contributed to the quality of both teaching and learning, and is praiseworthy.
The teacher adopted a patient, caring and student-centred approach in all the lessons observed and worked to maintain an atmosphere that was supportive and affirming of students and conducive to learning. Good classroom management skills were in evidence, lessons were well paced and good progress was made in all lessons. Students were well challenged by lesson content and they responded very well: their behaviour was very good, they engaged very well in the classroom activities and participated positively in all classroom interactions. The quality of rapport between teacher and students was good.
Lessons were mostly well structured, with studentsí everyday experiences and prior learning being used as the basis for unfolding new material. This is good practice. However, it is recommended that the learning intention of the lesson be shared with students at the beginning of lessons, ideally in the form of desired learning outcomes. This will give direction to the lessons and provide a basis upon which the teacher can summarise the lesson content at the end of the lesson, and upon which homework can be given.
The topics addressed during the lessons observed included responses in the flowering plant and nutrient recycling. Methodologies appropriate to the studentsí level of ability and to the lesson content were deployed in all lessons observed and the use of subject-specific terminology was good. These methodologies included use of ICT, questioning of students, teacher talk, student writing, demonstration and use of worksheets. There was a good balance between teacher-centred presentations and student-centred active-learning phases in lessons. The level of individual attention afforded to students facilitated a differentiated approach to teaching. This was evidenced by the manner in which the teacher circulated around the laboratory, assessing students, assisting and supporting them, and encouraging them to perform to the best of their abilities.
Of particular note was the extent to which ICT was used, in all lessons, and the science department is commended for the resources that have been prepared to facilitate such use. Such a visual approach helped students to focus on the key points being taught. It is recommended, however, that the laptop computer be connected in a manner that avoids stretching a trailing lead across a walkway and that a suitable means of maximising the quality of the image from the data projector is sought.†
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. The teacher was very affirming of student effort and was always encouraging and positive in correcting students with appropriate interventions. This is praiseworthy. It is important to ensure that all students are included in these interactions and deliberate steps should be taken to draw out the more reticent students and encourage them to participate in class.
During the course of a short practical session, when students were setting up an experiment to investigate phototropism using seeds, the teacher expertly made use of the opportunity presented to carry out a short but thorough revision of the conditions necessary for germination to occur. Such excellent practice promotes students awareness of the links between the various sections of the biology course and facilitates an integrated approach to Biology.
Students were assigned homework at the conclusion of lessons and were encouraged to note work given in their journals. This homework was appropriate to the lesson content and was designed to assist each student in learning and understanding the topic in question.
Students are assessed on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, through correction of homework and through teacher observation of students during class, as noted by the inspector. The quality of student learning was good in many cases. Students successfully carried out the different tasks assigned during the lessons. In conjunction with the increasing awareness of differentiated teaching methodologies apparent in the science department, it is recommended that the approach of Assessment for Learning (AfL) be examined in order to enhance teachersí capacity in monitoring student performance and responding to their needs. The website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, at www.ncca.ie, contains further information on AfL.
An examination of student laboratory notebooks indicated that the quality of work of many of the students was good, but that, overall, there was some variation. The quality of work in a number of notebooks showed no progressive improvement over time. It is recommended that these laboratory notebooks are regularly monitored and that students are affirmed for good work, but also shown how to improve where their work falls below an acceptable standard.†
A good regime of assessing and reporting on students is in place in Kildare Vocational School. Students of Biology sit Christmas and summer examinations in fifth year and they sit Christmas and mock examinations in sixth year. Progress reports are sent to studentsí homes following these assessments. In addition, sixth-year students are issued with mid-term progress reports at Halloween. It is commendable that in-house examinations mirror the style of the certificate examinations. Communication with parents is also achieved by means of parent-teacher meetings, held once per year for each class. The student journal that all students are required to keep is also used to communicate with parents.
It is recommended that the outcomes for students in the state examinations are analysed each year and that the results of such analyses are fed back into planning for improvement in the following year.
Good practice in relation to monitoring and recording student attendance and attainment was evident. The quality of record keeping was very good and sufficient information was recorded to facilitate the teacher to build up a profile of each student.
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:
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.
Published, June 2010