An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Gairm Scoil Mhuire
Thurles, County Tipperary
Roll number: 72490C
Date of inspection: 23 February 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Gairm Scoil Mhuire, Thurles. 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 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.
Gairm Scoil Mhuire is a co-educational, vocational school under the auspices of North Tipperary Vocational Education Committee and is located in the town of Thurles, Co. Tipperary. The school has an Aonad Lán Gaeilge, “Gaelcholáiste na Siúire”, where teaching and learning occur through the medium of Irish (Gaeilge), which affords students the opportunity to continue their second-level education through the medium of Irish.
Good support for the study of Science is evidenced by the fact that all students study Science at junior cycle. Students may potentially study Leaving Certificate Agricultural Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Currently, students are studying Agricultural Science, Biology, and Physics at senior cycle. Subject choice at senior cycle is student driven and this is good practice. There is good support for students in making their senior-cycle subject choices. This support includes provision of career guidance counselling, an information night, use of aptitude tests, and advice from subject teachers. It is noted that the uptake of Science subjects at senior cycle varies from year to year. The Science staff has researched and considered the factors that impact on students’ subject choices at senior cycle with a view to encouraging more students to take Science subjects at senior cycle. This shows a proactive approach to encouraging the uptake of Science subjects and is commended.
There are good supports in place to assist in the induction of new teachers. These supports include a teacher induction pack, meetings with the principal, deputy principal and “múinteoir i bhfeighil ar Ghaelcholáiste na Siúire”, a formal mentoring system, and support from subject colleagues.
Science classes are of mixed ability. They generally retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle. This supports continuity of student learning and is good practice.
The time allocation for Science is four class periods per week for each year of junior cycle. This is appropriate. For all class groups in third year and for some class groups in first and second years this allocation includes a double class period. The provision of double class periods is appropriate and is recommended in the syllabus as it facilitates students’ performance of practical, investigative work on which the syllabus is predicated. In this context, it is recommended that the school facilitate provision of double class periods in Science for all class groups in each year group. The time allocation for senior-cycle Science subjects is reported as six periods per week for each year of senior cycle and this is appropriate.
There are two Science laboratories with an adjoining preparation area. These facilities were viewed during the evaluation. The preparation area was well organised and good work had been done in storing equipment and materials. A number of issues with regard to facilities in the Science laboratories were identified during the visit. The school is working to progress these issues and intends to apply for the Department of Education and Science Summer Works Scheme. The school reflected its desire to continuously improve and develop its facilities.
The school works to encourage awareness of issues related to health and safety. This is good practice. The school has a health and safety statement. It is currently under review. It is recommended that the school complete the review. While undertaking the review the school should consider any issues attaching to the storage of chemicals and in so doing ensure that all chemicals are stored in accordance with best safety practice and Department of Education and Science recommendations.
There is a satisfactory amount of ICT resources available to Science teachers and these resources include a computer in each laboratory, software, data logging equipment, broadband internet access, data projector, and access to the school’s computer rooms. Use of ICT for research, data logging, and accessing Science websites is reported. When planning for the teaching and learning of Science it is encouraged that the Science staff consider the integration and use of ICT to continue to enhance students’ learning experiences.
It is reported that there is a budget for Science. This assists in planning for resources, equipment, and materials.
The school has good structures in place to support students with special educational needs. These structures include a homework club, Home School Community Liaison Officer (HSCL), paired reading scheme, and liaison between the school and parents of students identified as having special educational needs. There is awareness among the Science staff of students’ special educational needs. The school structures its class groupings in each year to allow smaller numbers in one class from each year group. This class is reported to contain a high proportion of students with special educational needs.
There is good support for teachers’ continuing professional development. This is evidenced by the fact that all Science teachers have been facilitated in attending the relevant Junior Science Support Service (JSSS) in-service education courses. Support is available for teachers pursuing relevant areas of further study. The Science teachers are members of the relevant professional association. There is support for whole-staff continuing professional development and examples of such activities were described during the inspection. Where a staff member attends an in-service course, it is reported that, where relevant he or she gives feedback to the whole staff on the course. This is commended as good practice.
The school is engaged in the process of school development planning. Good progress has been made in this area. Policies are in place in key areas. Planning meetings have taken place and planning has progressed to consider curricular areas. Arrangements for planning meetings were noted during the visit. Minutes of subject department meetings are copied to the principal and this is good practice.
The Science staff works collaboratively. Discussion revealed that there is a positive attitude of collegiality and collaboration among the Science teachers. A member of the Science staff acts in a voluntary capacity as co-ordinator of Science. The Science staff meets formally and informally to plan for the teaching and learning of Science. There is a good level of planning activity evident in the Science department. The focus of this activity has been on planning for equipment, practical investigations, practical work, and programme content for junior cycle. It is recommended that the Science department continue its good work in planning for the teaching and learning of Science. Focus for future work could include further development and sharing of teaching strategies and methodologies.
The content of all lessons observed was appropriate to the syllabus and all requisite materials were to hand and had been prepared in advance. Teachers showed a high level of subject matter expertise thus evidencing good preparation for the lesson topics under study.
The laboratories were bright, clean, and well maintained. There were many posters and some student work on display in the laboratories thus contributing to an atmosphere of a scientific learning space.
A variety of methodologies was used in the lessons observed. The methodologies included questioning, teacher-led demonstration, student note taking, student performance of practical work, discussion, and use of flipchart and whiteboard. Questioning styles were a mix of global and directed questioning. In particular, it was observed that directed questioning was used effectively to engage students and to assess their understanding of the topics under study. The flipchart and whiteboard were used effectively to highlight and reinforce key learning points and this is good practice. Effective use of student note taking to record the key terms encountered was noted.
Where experimental work was observed it was performed safely. Students worked well in their groups and showed a good level of engagement with their work. Students were encouraged to observe and to report their observations. This is good scientific practice. Good practice was also observed where an investigative approach was taken to the topics under study. This is in keeping with the aims of the syllabus. Students were given a high level of guidance and advice in relation to their practical work. As students’ experience and knowledge of laboratory practice and investigative techniques expands it is encouraged that they take on greater levels of independent decision-making.
In some lessons observed, students’ behaviour and motivation required a high level of management by teachers. Good practice was observed where students were addressed by name and where student inattention was sensitively corrected. During the lessons observed, teachers circulated among the students and this contributed to good classroom management. It also enabled teachers to engage with students and to answer questions on an individual basis. Within subject department planning it is recommended that the Science staff continue to develop strategies and methodologies that engage and motivate students in their learning, appropriate to their year group and abilities.
In lessons observed, it was noted that students’ questions were responded to positively and that teachers encouraged their students. Teachers’ acknowledgement of students’ efforts in responding to questions was noted. A positive environment where students’ efforts, successes, and achievements are acknowledged and affirmed fosters and sustains student motivation.
Formally, there is regular assessment of students with reports sent home periodically. This is appropriate.
There are good structures in place to support home school communication. These include parent teacher meetings, reports that are sent home, phone calls, meetings, and HSCL officer.
Students are assessed in classes, in the main, through oral questioning, class-based examinations, and homework. Records are kept of students’ progress and this is appropriate.
The school has a practice of analysing the results of the State examinations. This analysis is made available to staff. The results of this analysis might be usefully employed in conjunction with relevant marking schema, chief examiners’ reports, and examination papers to inform the subject planning process.
Teachers assess students’ progress in practical work mainly through oral feedback during practical activities and through monitoring of laboratory copies in which students’ write up their practical work. Consideration could be usefully given to extending the range of strategies that give credit for student performance of practical work
Samples of students’ work were viewed during the inspection. The work viewed included students’ laboratory copies, notes/homework copies, and journals. Students should be reminded to include the planning undertaken when writing up their experimental work. In some cases, regular correction and annotation of students’ homework was noted. Correction and feedback on students’ laboratory copies were noted in some cases. Regular correction and feedback to students on their work is good practice. In developing this practice it is recommended that increased use be made of comment-based feedback during correction of students’ work.
The activity and participation of students in a range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities related to the sciences was noted during the evaluation. Students have participated in Science for Fun day, Science quizzes, class competitions, and project work. The time given by the Science staff and its dedication in facilitating students’ participation in such events is 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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board of management of Gairm Scoil Mhuire acknowledges and appreciates the findings of the science inspection as reported. We accept that the report accurately reflects the ethos of the science department and the work ethic therein. Our mission statement of ‘aspiring to develop a caring, inclusive learning community which optimizes the potential of each person’ is reflected in the current practice and upheld by each member of the Science Department’s Team.
A collaborative culture of planning, implementation and review on a regular and continuous basis maintains high standards of practice and allows for evaluation and reflection.
Science is seen as an important area of learning for students and is promoted accordingly in the school. Senior Cycle students are encouraged to consider maintaining this to Leaving Certificate. Supports are in place to ensure that the value of Science is communicated to parents and pupils alike and that the physical environment is an attractive place to be, the labs are well resourced and there is interactive as well as ICT resources available. Classroom methodologies are interesting and varied.
The Board of Management would like to thank the Science Department Staff for the professional manner in which they complete their work and acknowledge their dedication to the teaching of science. The Board of Management would like to thank the principal for her continuing support and leadership .
Area 2: Follow up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
A review of the health & safety statement is currently underway. Each subject department is required to include a health & safety statement in their work folders. All subject departments meetings will record accurate minutes which will then be submitted to the principal’s office for record-keeping.
A proposal has been made to provide on-going professional development in-service in the area of teaching methodologies to the whole school staff. This will take place during designated staff training days in the next academic year 2006/2007. This proposal has been accepted by the board of management and staff and the management are currently preparing an outline of needs for the Department of Education and Science, Second Level Support Service.
These will include methodologies for best educational practice, specific subject methodologies, and strategies for varying the stimulus, questioning techniques for classroom use, motivation techniques and appropriate feedback techniques
The Board of Management aspires to the highest possible standards of education and care for the pupils of Gairm Scoil Mhuire/Gaelcholaiste na Siuire and will be pro-active in this regard.