An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Abbeyfeale, County Limerick
Roll number: 71870H
Date of inspection: 18 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Vocational School, Abbeyfeale. 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 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
In this school, Science is a core subject at junior cycle. The Science subjects at senior cycle are Leaving Certificate Biology and Leaving Certificate Physics. The uptake of both subjects is good. It is noted that students select their senior-cycle subjects from set option bands. Consideration might be given to how a “best fit” system could assist the school in achieving optimal levels of success in meeting student choices. Students enjoy good support in making their senior-cycle subject choices. The school is part of the Guidance Enhancement Initiative and uses its allocation to support guidance counselling during first, second and third years. The school currently does not offer the Transition Year programme but discussion during the inspection visit revealed an interest in considering its inclusion in the curriculum, subject to sufficient student uptake.
Science classes are of mixed ability in first year and are streamed in second and third years. The school is encouraged in its development of mixed-ability class groupings in Science. Classes generally retain the same teacher during second and third years and this practice supports continuity of learning.
The weekly time allocation for Science is four class periods. This is appropriate. The school reports that its policy is to allocate one double class period and two single class periods weekly for Science. The provision of double class periods is in keeping with the recommendations of the syllabus as such provision facilitates student performance of practical work on which the revised syllabus is predicated. It is noted that the time allocated to one third-year class group is two double class periods weekly. For the purposes of maximising the number of class contacts during third year for all class groups, it would be beneficial if the school reviewed the current allocation of lesson periods.
There are two Science laboratories in the school. There is no dedicated preparation area or area for the secure storage of chemicals or materials. Most chemicals are stored in presses at the back of one laboratory. Good work has been completed in colour coding chemicals. Review of the storage of chemicals is advised to ensure that they are stored in accordance with best safety practice and Department of Education and Science recommendations. The Science facilities are adequate for the day-to-day teaching and learning of Science. It was reported that good work has been completed in repairing and maintaining fixtures in the laboratories. The school is engaged in planning for a forthcoming amalgamation sanctioned by the Department of Education and Science that will include provision of a new school building and modern Science facilities.
The school has a health and safety statement. It is reported that it was formally reviewed in 2002, it is subject to ongoing general review, and there are plans for a formal review. It is advised that the school review its health and safety statement annually or more regularly as needs arise.
There is no formal budget for Science. Resources are purchased based on teachers’ requisitions. It is reported that all requests for resources are met. Work has commenced on the creation of a stock list and it is encouraged that this work is completed. It is reported that there is a VEC stocktake annually and this practice supports effective management of resources.
The school has structures in place that support students with special educational needs. Science teachers are made aware of students with special educational needs. Science teachers reported using strategies such as key word lists to help students with literacy difficulties. Examination of teacher’s support materials showed that good work has been done in developing resources for use with students. There is liaison between the Science staff and the school’s learning-support team to support work with students with special educational needs. In continuing to support Science teachers in their work it is recommended that the school engage with the Special Education Support Service (SESS), www.sess.ie. Further supports for teachers might be gained through ongoing liaison with the school’s learning support team in relation to methodologies and strategies for use in special education.
The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) available for the teaching of Science includes a computer, two data projectors, digital camera, and microscope. There are two laptop computers available to all staff members. Discussion showed an interest among the Science staff in developing the use of ICT in the teaching and learning of Science and this is encouraged.
There is good support for teachers’ continuing professional development. Science teachers have been facilitated in attending relevant in-service education courses. The VEC scheme provides financial support for teachers engaging in relevant further studies.
Some progress has been achieved in school development planning with policies in place in areas such as admissions, anti-bullying, and discipline. Policies in other areas have been drafted and are in the process of being brought to the board of management.
It was reported that in previous years formal subject meetings have been organised and held, with at least one meeting yearly. The school reported plans to facilitate subject department meetings once a term and this is encouraged. These meetings will facilitate Science teachers in their planning work.
The work of organising the Science department is undertaken cooperatively by the Science teachers. The role of Science co-ordinator is rotated among the teachers and this is good practice as it allows all teachers an opportunity to gain experience in this role. Discussion with the Science teachers showed that there is a good level of collegiality. One formal subject meeting has taken place during the current academic year. Minutes were kept of the meeting and communicated to senior school management. This is good practice. The Science staff also meets informally and frequently to discuss matters relating to the operation of the Science department. This demonstrates teachers’ commitment and is commended.
The main collaborative planning work undertaken by the Science teachers includes sharing information, selecting textbooks, and detailing maintenance required in the laboratories. A plan outlining the content and sequencing of topics for junior cycle has been drawn up. This good work is commended.
An individual planning file was available for viewing. This file was extensive and contained details of content to be covered during each term, assessments and modes of assessment, and comprehensive resources and notes. It was evident that a considerable amount of work has been done in planning and preparing for the teaching and learning of Science.
All lessons observed were appropriate to the syllabus. A high degree of subject matter expertise was evident during lessons observed.
All the lessons observed commenced with the oral correction of homework. This practice was useful in supporting good classroom management and facilitating students in engaging with the topics under study.
Questioning was used in the lessons observed. Directed questioning was the most effective questioning style observed. This style enabled teachers to pose questions of the whole class and then to gather answers from individual students in an effective and well-managed manner. It is advised that directed questioning be used as the main questioning style. Many of the questions posed were recall-based. While these questions were useful in assessing student knowledge and the level of factual information that students held it would be advisable to consider how further integration of higher-order questions could assist in student learning.
The use of overhead projection slides and the whiteboard facilitated teachers in highlighting the key learning points and this is good practice.
Some lessons consisted primarily of exposition and explanation with some student research activities. This was generally successful in the context where it was observed. The subject planning process could be used to consider how variety of teaching methodologies would serve to further engage students and support student motivation.
Use of teacher demonstration was effective in showing students the correct experimental procedure to use during practical work. Student performance of practical work was characterised by high levels of student energy and enthusiasm. This required a significant level of management to ensure that all students were kept on task. Good practice was observed where students were involved in setting up for and tidying up after experimental work. This practice encourages students to accept responsibility for their work.
Good practice was observed where teachers circulated among students as they worked, guiding, advising, and affirming their work. Students were, for the most part, enthusiastic in participating in class activities. Participation levels were optimal where students were actively engaged in class activities. Teachers strive to meet students’ individual learning needs in the context of various class groupings, managing challenging behaviour, and supporting student work. To continue to support teachers in their work it is recommended that the school engage with the Second Level Support Service (SLSS), www.slss.ie, in the areas of teaching strategies and methodologies appropriate to the various class contexts and groupings.
Student behaviour required a high degree of attention in some lessons observed. In other cases, students were well disciplined. Where student behaviour required a lot of teacher attention, a high degree of patience and acceptance was evident in the approach taken to managing the behaviour. It is advised that where student behaviour is challenging that regular class routines and procedures be adopted to facilitate classroom management and to manage student enthusiasm.
The laboratories benefited from some scientific charts and posters. However, many of these were quite old. It would be of value in developing the visual learning environment if displays of recent student work as well as more up-to-date charts and posters were added.
Students’ progress is assessed regularly and reports are sent home periodically. This is appropriate. Parents are kept informed of students’ progress by means of school reports, regular parent-teacher meetings, and use of school journal system.
The school has undertaken analysis of State examination results in the past. Such analysis could, in conjunction with Chief Examiners’ reports, examination papers, and marking schemes, beneficially inform the subject planning process. The development of this practice is encouraged.
Common assessment is used during first year and has, in the past, been used during second year. The use of common assessment is good practice as it enables comparison of student attainment across a year group and is useful if students change between class groups.
The school has a formal homework policy in place. Homework was assigned in lessons observed and good practice was noted where homework was appropriately differentiated according to students’ abilities and needs. Teachers may give credit for students’ homework and/or give formal written examinations as part of monthly assessments. The linking of assessment and homework is good practice and development of this link might be used to encourage and reward students’ efforts in completing, correcting, and learning from homework.
Samples of students’ work were viewed. It was noted that teachers monitor students’ copies and there was evidence of formative feedback to students. This is good practice. In some cases, students had not completed the correction of their work and should be encouraged to do so. In particular, where teachers have provided guiding comments, students should be reminded of the importance of following the advice given. It was noted from the samples of work viewed that students had completed a generally satisfactory level of work. Examination of students’ experimental copies showed that students should be encouraged to include, in the record of their experimental work, a description of the planning undertaken in advance of the experimental work.
The main methods used in assessing students’ progress in the performance of practical work were feedback to students as they performed the practical work and inclusion of ten per cent of the final summer examination result for students’ write up of their experimental work. This is good practice as it rewards students for their practical work. It is encouraged that this practice develops by rewarding students for the practical skills gained in the performance of experimental work.
Students’ participation in Science-related extra-curricular and co-curricular activities is well supported by the Science staff. Students have been involved in Science quizzes, field trips linked with Geography, ecology trips, Chemistry club, trips to third level institutions, Science week, habitat studies, and visits to Science exhibitions. The work of the Science staff in supporting students in these activities is acknowledged and commended.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.