An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection Report in Physics and Science
Tullow Community School
The Mullawn, Tullow, County Carlow
Roll number: 91356F
Date of inspection: 8 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 June 2006
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Tullow Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physics and Science 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Science is a core subject at Tullow Community School except for a small number of students following the Junior Certificate School Programme in third year. Classes are of mixed ability. Class groups generally retain the same teacher during the last two years of junior cycle.
A modular course in Science with Physics, Chemistry and Biology components forms part of the optional Transition Year programme. A written programme is available. The school offers the elective course in Science and Health as part of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme.
Parents and third-year students are invited to a “subject options” open night in the school. The guidance counsellor and subject teachers advise students on the best and most suitable subject choices. Option blocks are formed in which the vast majority of students get their desired choice. Physics, Chemistry and Biology are currently offered at senior cycle. Numbers of fifth- year students choosing Physics in the current year are lower than in previous years. It is commendable that the school has continued to offer the subject. Physics intake for the next academic year looks very promising with numbers matching the intake of previous years. There are no girls in the current fifth-year class group. It is recommended that measures be taken to promote Physics to third-year and Transition Year students, especially to girls, in an attempt to redress the gender imbalance. There is currently one class group in fifth year and in sixth year in Physics and in Chemistry and three class groups in Biology.
The time allocation to Physics is satisfactory. However the time allocation to Science is less than the recommended requirements as stated in the syllabus guidelines. The Science syllabus recommends 240 to 270 hours of class contact time, normally equivalent to four forty-minute classes per week, over the three years of the junior cycle. It is recommended that the school allocates sufficient time to the teaching of Science in accordance with syllabus guidelines. The school operates with nine thirty-five minute class periods each day. It is commendable that the school is currently planning to address this whole school issue as laid out in circular M29/95 with a view to rectifying the time allocation to subjects in the near future. A particular third-year class group has its Science timetable split between two teachers. In the interests of continuity and best practice it is recommended that this practice be discontinued in future years.
There are seven teachers in the Science department in the school all of whom teach junior-cycle Science. They keep themselves updated and upskilled with the revised Science syllabus by attending the junior-cycle Science inservice programme.
There are three Science laboratories in the school. A spacious common preparation and storage area is shared between two of the laboratories. In addition one of these laboratories has a Physics storage room. The third laboratory has a separate storage and preparation room. The adjoining demonstration room is also used for Science teaching. The laboratories are spacious and well maintained with colourful posters and evidence of students’ work on the walls. Materials and chemicals are stored in an orderly fashion. The work of the Science teachers in this regard is commended. The gas system and the fume hoods have been replaced in recent years. Some basic items of apparatus are needed in order to teach the practical elements of the Physics syllabus effectively and it is recommended that consideration be given to purchasing such apparatus. Access to the laboratories is good with all double lessons timetabled for the laboratory.
The school health and safety statement dates from the early 1990s. It is recommended that this statement be reviewed and updated in the near future and that the Science teachers are consulted as part of the process. The laboratories have been equipped with safety equipment including fire extinguishers, fire blankets and gas isolation switches. Laboratory rules are clearly displayed on the walls. It is commendable that all first-year students sign a copy of the laboratory rules on commencement of practical activities.
There is computer and datalogging equipment in the laboratories. The school is awaiting connection to broadband. It is recommended that school management, in consultation with the Science teachers, gives consideration to enhancing Information and Communications Technology (ICT) facilities in the Science laboratories so that ICT can be readily used as part of the teaching and learning process. In addition it is recommended that Science teachers seek training in the use of ICT in teaching and learning. There are currently courses available from the Second Level Support Service.
Students with special educational needs are well supported by the school. Personnel are available for consultation with the staff regarding any special needs problems that may arise. Special needs assistant (SNA) support in Science was in evidence in the course of the inspection.
Science teachers have met formally on two occasions over the year as part of the school development planning process. In addition teachers meet frequently on an informal basis. These meetings have an agreed agenda, brief minutes are taken and a report is sent to school management. These planning meetings are convened by the Science co-ordinator. This position is filled on a rotating basis. The agenda of recent meetings includes the following items: books, Junior Certificate coursework B projects, subject inspection, subject planning, resources, equipment, safety, syllabus, special needs and laboratory organisation. The teachers are highly commended in this regard.
Teachers have produced a subject plan for Science and Physics. The template from the School Development Planning Initiative has been used. The aims and objectives are clearly stated. The comprehensive information given includes planning for students with special needs, provision for health and safety, differentiated teaching strategies, teachers’ professional development, record and report keeping, and a professional development plan for the subject. There is an agreed common curriculum content plan for each year of the junior cycle. Topics covered each term are clearly laid out. Flexibility is built into the plan so that teachers can substitute additional content on a needs basis. The work of the teachers in the development of this plan is highly commended. The further development of this plan following evaluation is recommended.
There was generally good advance planning of the lessons observed. This is commended. Practical equipment was ready in advance, worksheets were prepared, and as a result teaching and learning were enhanced.
There was a good rapport in all lessons observed. Students were immersed in a strong atmosphere of learning and felt supported and valued. They were addressed by name. Participation in class activities was good.
There was a wide range of abilities in the class groups observed. Constant support was given to those who needed it together with the needs of the group as a whole. An atmosphere of mutual respect existed in all lessons. Students responded positively to the constant affirmation and praise of their good work. Students were generally motivated to work to the best of their abilities. The work of the teachers in the support of all students is highly commended.
The lessons observed had a clear structure. The whiteboard was used effectively to highlight key concepts, to introduce a topic and to summarise at the conclusion of the lesson. Formulas, units, diagrams and mathematical problems were presented clearly and constant reference was made to this material to reinforce the content of the lesson.
Questioning was used effectively in most lessons observed. Many questions were used as an aid to recall and to link the content of the present lesson with previously taught material. There was good emphasis in linking Science to students’ everyday experiences in some lessons observed by means of expert use of relevant questions. There was a tendency for the same students to constantly answer general class questions. It may be more effective to address some questions at individuals in order to increase levels of participation. Students asked questions which in many cases led to general class discussion on relevant topics.
Investigative practical work formed part of the majority of lessons observed. A good investigative approach in line with syllabus requirements was adopted. Small groups worked effectively at the tasks assigned. Worksheets were used in some lessons. In other lessons a worksheet would have played a part in focusing students’ attention and would have led to increased participation by some students. In some practical lessons students were not sufficiently familiar with the task assigned. A short demonstration in advance is recommended followed by a discussion of the concepts underlying the investigation. More emphasis on appropriate units used in measurements and calculations is recommended. This unfamiliarity led in some cases to the practical work not being completed in the assigned time. It is recommended in such instances that lesson time be managed in an effort to complete the task assigned in a reasonable timeframe. Students worked in a safe environment and the emphasis on health and safety of students is commended. However, care needs to be taken in some lessons to ensure that schoolbags do not constitute a trip hazard in the laboratories.
Coursework B investigative titles for the Junior Certificate Science examination formed the content of some lessons observed. Students had carried out some research in advance using relevant websites, books and other material. There was an example where the investigation on germinating peas which students carried out at home was discussed. The quality of answers was very good. Students proceeded to work on their assignment while constantly receiving individual help and support if needed. Plant pigments were discussed, a demonstration followed and the whiteboard was used effectively to list plant names that students agreed to collect to carry out the investigation. There was another example where students effectively carried out an investigation to extract plant pigment from various sources. Participation by all students was good as they worked diligently throughout the investigation.
There was a clear sense of motivation in many lessons observed. There was an example where students were separating soil from water. They were encouraged to explore the reasons why the investigation may not work perfectly unless certain precautions were taken. Students discovered the correct methodology themselves and learned the importance of repeating an experiment for greater accuracy.
Formal examinations take place for second-year and fifth-year classes in November while other class groups have informal examinations and assessments at this time. A report is issued to parents at Christmas. In February the ‘mock’ examinations are taken by third-year and sixth-year students. Students in first, second, and fifth years and in Transition Year sit formal summer examinations after which a report is sent to parents. There is an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year group.
In addition to formal examinations teachers use end-of-chapter tests and end-of-topic tests as a means of assessment. There is ongoing assessment and revision by means of class questioning. Students were generally confident at answering questions on their work during the lessons observed.
The practical notebooks were generally of good standard. However, it was evident that some students need constant encouragement to maintain a notebook of a high standard. In many cases there was evidence that teachers had checked the quality of the notebooks. It is recommended that the practical notebooks be annotated with useful comments for improvement and affirmation of work well done. It is important that there is a follow-up process to ensure that corrections are completed. In addition it is recommended that teachers give credit for practical work completed and recorded in school assessments. This would encourage better standards and would reflect the aims and objectives of the revised Science syllabus.
Homework was assigned at the conclusion of some lessons observed. This often took the form of textbook assignments, completion of a worksheet or completion of an account of an experiment. A homework journal exists whereby teachers and parents can communicate regarding items such as homework and absenteeism.
Students are given the opportunity to pursue co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. There are good links with Carlow Institute of Technology. Students go there on visits for open day activities and relevant Science-related lectures. Students from Tullow Community School have taken part in the Science Quiz as part of Science Week activities.
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 principal and with the teachers of Physics and Science at the conclusion of the evaluation at which 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
Re: Recommendation that “Science teachers should seek training in the use of ICT in teaching and learning”.
Science teachers in Tullow Community School have availed of such training in the past and are open to participating in further training in the future.