An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Mathematics
Cobh Community College
Cobh, County Cork
Roll number: 70970G
Date of inspection: 5 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Mathematics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Cobh Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Cobh Community College 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 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.
Cobh Community College is a co-educational school which offers the Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP), Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP), Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Leaving Certificate to its 233 students. The school operates a forty-two class period week, with a combination of thirty-five and forty-minute class periods. The range of programmes which the school has on offer and the structures it has put in place cater effectively for the wide range of its students’ abilities in Mathematics.
The school engages in inclusive practices which allow all students to access and benefit from the learning experiences provided by the mathematics curriculum. The school’s commitment to students with special educational needs is witnessed in many ways, not least by having two mathematics teachers qualified in the area of special educational needs. These teachers, working along with the entire mathematics team, provide a range of interventions to assist students. The quality of the support provision and the whole-school nature of the support reflect well upon the core special educational needs team, the mainstream mathematics teachers and the leadership of the school.
Students finding Mathematics particularly challenging are identified through initial contact with the local primary schools, testing of all incoming students, students’ psychological assessments at both primary and post-primary levels and ongoing teacher monitoring. Identified students are supported through the allocation of additional lesson time, the creation of small class groups, team teaching and parallel teaching. In addition extra support is provided through withdrawal of students from classes other than mathematics classes for small-group and one-to-one tuition. The school has two rooms designated as numeracy rooms for this purpose. These rooms contain a variety of resources including software, hands-on materials and hand-held computerised testing devices. Such supports are highly commended.
Extra time and teacher resources are provided for some classes. A smaller class group in first year has six periods of Mathematics and the JCSP class in second and third year also have six periods of Mathematics. These classes and the TY class have a member of the support team timetabled along with the mathematics teacher for some of their classes each week to allow team-teaching to take place. In the LCA1 class and one sixth-year class, parallel teaching is used to provide students with an opportunity to access Mathematics in a more effective way.
Four class periods of Mathematics are allocated to junior cycle classes and the TY class. Timetable provision for Mathematics is satisfactory in the senior cycle with five lessons per week for fifth-year and sixth-year groups. However the allocation at junior cycle is low. Optimal provision for junior cycle Mathematics is a lesson per day. The current provision in third year is supplemented by teachers outside of timetabled hours and the teachers involved are commended for this. It is recommended, therefore, that every effort be made to increase the time allocation for Mathematics in future timetabling in particular for third-year students. The LCA classes have four mathematics periods in year one of their course and five periods in year two.
Concurrent timetabling allows students to follow the highest level possible for as long as possible and enables students to change level easily where necessary. In Cobh Community College non-JCSP mathematics classes are concurrently timetabled from second year onwards and this good practice is commended.
Teachers are assigned to classes on a rota basis by management. There is an induction programme for teachers new to the school which is overseen by the Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) teacher. This involves a day of induction followed by ongoing support.
There is a commitment from management and the mathematics team to increase the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in mathematics teaching. Broadband internet access is available in almost all classrooms and ceiling-mounted data projectors have been added in several classrooms around the school. Work is currently underway to place one in the mathematics room. Software to present mathematical symbols more easily in typed format is available in the school and is used by teachers in the preparation of materials for mathematics classes.
The school is currently engaged in a laptop initiative and, as part of this, some mathematics teachers have been provided with a laptop computer for use with classes. The initiative involves the school, parents and the Vocational Education Committee (VEC) co-operating in the purchase of a laptop computer for every student in first year. This project will, in time, see laptop use by students in the classroom become the norm in the school. All involved in the project are commended.
To facilitate the integration of the laptops into first-year lessons, a member of the mathematics team has created and is developing a website which can be accessed during lessons and contains links to useful websites in a range of subjects including Mathematics.
Cobh Community College is one of twelve schools involved in a team-teaching pilot project being run by the County Cork VEC. Members of the special educational needs team have given talks to the teachers undertaking the Learning Support Course run by University College Cork. They have also shared their experiences with the East Cork Learning Support Group.
The mathematics team consists of six mainstream teachers and two learning-support teachers. All are currently involved in team-teaching, parallel teaching or have students in their classes who are being withdrawn for learning support or resource assistance. The team works co-operatively both formally and informally to plan and oversee the strands of this provision.
Mathematics department activities are co-ordinated by a senior member of the team and formal planning and review meetings are scheduled around staff meetings and school planning days. A recent change to the structure of subject planning during these days, allowing two sessions to take place, has facilitated the team to meet as a group. Records are kept of such meetings and they show clear evidence of ongoing collaboration and review among mathematics teachers. Informal discussions between groups of teachers also take place on a regular basis.
The mathematics team has made commendable progress in planning. The department plan includes overall aims and objectives for mathematics education within the school, outline programmes of work for each year group and level, organisational details for the current year, details of textbooks and materials, ICT facilities and a description of provision for students with special educational needs, which is in line with good practice and is commended. It also contains a list of continuous professional development (CPD) courses attended by members of the team and a detailed review of the 2007 state examination results by students from the school and comparisons with national norms. The LCA folder contains details of the course modules, a copy of the guidelines for teachers and a list of key assignments and tasks for students to complete.
The special educational needs team also has a plan for provision in Mathematics. This includes timetables and details of team teaching, curriculum splits and small-group teaching for each year group. The plan also contains student details, notes on how dyslexia can affect learning in Mathematics, a copy of the competency test used in the school, and a detailed weekly work plan for the withdrawal groups in each year group. Members of the special educational needs team have participated in a Special Needs/ICT partnership course and notes from this course are included.
There is a TY plan. The topics covered include some course material, some review of Junior Certificate material and some mathematical puzzles, games and projects. The mathematics room had a display of TY students’ projects on famous mathematicians from the past. This is in line with the TY philosophy of ‘doing different maths and doing maths differently’ and is commended.
The focus of the supports available to students is to increase confidence and mathematical ability. Over time students should become independent learners and actively engage in their own learning and problem solving. In order to reflect this and the work seen in the classroom, it is recommended that any review of planning should identify ways in which students are being, and could be, encouraged to achieve these goals.
Individual plans made available by all teachers during the inspection were detailed and very good. In many cases teachers used the long-term plan for the department to plan their individual programmes of work. Given the level of co-operation required between the teachers to effectively implement the programmes and interventions available to students in the school, such planning assisted in the progress and smooth transitions within lessons observed. Many teachers have developed supplementary materials such as handouts, charts and acetates for use in the teaching and learning of Mathematics. A folder of worksheets, located in the staffroom, is available to all team members.
A variety of teaching methodologies and styles were observed during the inspection. Three of the lessons visited involved team teaching. In one instance, both teachers were equally involved in the teaching of the class and providing individual attention and the teachers moved seamlessly between their teaching and supporting roles, thus ensuring a good pace to the lesson. In another lesson the emphasis was on providing individual attention to students, allowing them to progress at their own pace once they had grasped the concepts involved. The supportive, constructive and work-oriented atmosphere observed in these classes was underlined by the learning taking place in the classroom. In the TY class students were involved in group work, with which they were clearly familiar. Following an outline of the task for the lesson, students worked on problems individually and then moved to their groups and continued working on a worksheet that incorporated more difficult elements of the topic. Peer learning and self-directed learning were observed as students worked on the tasks and the teachers facilitated this learning. This good practice is commended.
Classes generally began with a review of homework followed by a recap of previous learning. Lessons were well structured and purposeful and there was evidence of good short-term planning. Clear objectives were set for lessons and the lessons progressed at an appropriate pace with good use being made of time. Topics such as algebra, geometry, arithmetic and trigonometry featured in the lessons observed.
Textbooks, worksheets, hands-on materials and a laptop and data projector were among the resources used in lessons. There were some good examples observed of the use of differentiated worksheets. Such good practice ensures that all students are encouraged to work to the best of their abilities and to consolidate the learning activities of the lesson.
Teachers displayed good classroom management skills. Classes were conducted in an environment of mutual respect where teachers gave encouragement to all students. Teachers were affirming of students. Mathematical posters and examples of students’ work were displayed in the mathematics classroom and in some of the other rooms visited.
Question-and-answer sessions generally began by posing a question to the entire class group before asking an individual for the answer. This practice is commendable as it ensures that all students’ attention is maintained. Questions were used at the beginning of lessons to recall work from a previous lesson. Teachers made good use of students’ answers to probe and check understanding. The positive affirmation of students’ inputs is good practice as it encourages greater understanding and motivates students to further participate in lessons.
Students’ outcomes in terms of knowledge and understanding were generally good. Most students ably and confidently answered questions put to them during the course of the visit and were able to apply what they had learned to related problems.
Students’ progress is formally assessed in class tests, which take place at regular intervals, and term examinations. Teachers keep records of these tests and written reports are sent to parents after Christmas and summer term examinations for non-examination classes and after ‘mock’ Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations for third-year and sixth-year students. A parent-teacher meeting is held for each year group during the year and parents may contact the school as required.
The HSCL teacher and the JCSP teachers have initiated a ‘maths for fun’ programme in the school to involve parents in numeracy provision for their children. For a number of weeks parents came to the school on one day per week and worked with their children in the mathematics classroom. All involved in the project are commended.
The two first-year classes have some common questions in their summer assessment. This is good practice. It is recommended that the practice of having common assessments or appropriate common questions within levels would be introduced with other year groups. Such a practice would allow for ease of comparison of students’ performances within levels with the rest of their year group and enable teachers to give advice to students and parents as to the most appropriate exam level for them.
Homework has an important role in the learning process and was assigned in many lessons observed. Homework was appropriate in terms of the quantity and relevance to the work done during the lesson. There is evidence that teachers are monitoring students’ copybooks. Good practice is evident where teachers encourage students to correct and amend their work as this encourages students to develop as independent learners. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all classes. An examination of a sample of mathematics copybooks and folders at Cobh Community College revealed work that was appropriate, relevant and reasonably well presented.
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:
Published, September 2008
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The report was reviewed by the Board of Management in June 2008. The Board is happy to accept the Inspection Report and is very pleased with the positive affirmation that it gives to the teaching of Mathematics and the variety of methodologies used. The Board commends the Inspectorate for the courtesy and professionalism in its approach.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board is pleased to advise that extra provision in class contact time will be provided in the coming academic year.