An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Mathematics
The Rosses Community School,
Dungloe, County Donegal
Roll number: 91407T
Date of inspection: 9 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 25 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Mathematics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in The Rosses Community School, Dungloe. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics 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 principal, deputy principal and 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 deputy principal and to the 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.
School management’s support for and commitment to Mathematics is evident: the allocation of time at junior and senior cycles, including the Transition Year and the Leaving Certificate Applied is highly appropriate to programme requirements, and additional teachers have been allocated to the subject in three of the six year groups to facilitate students’ access to level-appropriate classes during their studies. Class groupings, in five years of the six, are concurrently timetabled and the significant demands this arrangement places on the timetable are acknowledged. However, four of the six years have contact with the subject on only four days of the week. In order to maximise the progress made during mathematics lessons, it is recommended that efforts be made to schedule teacher-class contact on all five days of the week for all groups having five or more lesson periods.
It was noted that the current timetabling arrangements in the school fall short of what is required to ensure that all students have access to twenty-eight class-contact hours. School management has indicated it will be addressing this matter and making adjustment to the timetable for future years or seeking additional resources to address the matter if this adjustment would compromise essential course provision.
On entry to The Rosses Community School, which operates an open enrolment policy, first year students sit assessment tests and are allocated to classes on a mixed-ability basis, except for Mathematics, for which classes are taught in separate higher, ordinary and foundation level groups. While acknowledging that students are actively encouraged to study the subject at the highest level possible, it is recommended that the mathematics team review this arrangement for students in first year and teach mathematics classes as mixed ability groupings, allowing students an appropriate period to mature and settle in prior to choosing their level of study. The setting of common tests for these classes at key junctures would help to support teachers in their recommendations and students and parents in their decisions regarding level of study for the remainder of their junior cycle.
The school’s commitment to students with special educational needs is evident. From first to third year, students who find Mathematics particularly challenging are supported through the formation of small class groupings working at an appropriate level. At senior cycle, support is then available through the Leaving Certificate Applied. It is notable that within this programme there is targeted tailoring of skills and content to make every effort to meet the needs of all students.
Informal support, in the form of one-to-one tuition, is reported. In addition, students studying the subject at higher level are offered supplementary classes outside of timetabled hours. Teachers are applauded for their commitment to ensuring the best chances possible for their students.
Creating subject-specific links with sixth class teachers in feeder primary schools could create opportunities to share information on course content, teaching methodologies and expectations. It is suggested that such links be established so as to enhance mutual understanding among teachers and as a valuable measure in easing the transition for students from primary to post-primary school.
A student quiz, run by the Irish Mathematics Teachers’ Association, is commendably promoted as a co-curricular activity for senior students in the school. The mathematics team might consider offering additional co-curricular activities currently available through the teacher association (first year quiz) and/or some universities (e.g. Prism) and/or online (e.g. Hamilton grand challenge).
Continuous professional development for teachers of Mathematics is encouraged and facilitated by school management. In addition, teachers are facilitated in purchasing texts to support their needs.
The mathematics team in The Rosses Community School is in a phase of transition, with recent retirements of long-standing members and the recruitment of new teachers to the department and to the school. It is recognised that such significant change has the potential to be unsettling, while also opening up new possibilities. The ‘new’ team is encouraged to work closely, deepening their collaborations and determining a solid basis for their future work together and with their students.
All teachers of Mathematics made available their individual preparation materials during the inspection. Included were detailed long-term plans, daily diaries of work completed with class groups, samples of notes prepared for students, and extensive banks of mathematics test papers.
Coordination of the mathematics department has evolved, on an informal basis, to a senior teacher. The role currently involves receiving and sharing correspondence and information and keeping a general overview of students’ movements between classes and levels. It is recommended that the team review and further develop the role of coordinator, keeping in mind how it might maximise the effectiveness of the subject department. As a consequence of a potentially increased responsibility level and workload, consideration might be given to rotating the role among team members following an agreed term of office.
Formal meetings of the subject team have been held in recent years, in conjunction with whole school planning activities. Progress has been made on the development of the department plan, closely in line with School Development Planning Initiative guidelines. Thus, aims and objectives for mathematics education, details of the organisation and timetabling of mathematics classes, and a record of teachers’ continuous professional development are included. It is commendable that long-term planning has begun to be addressed with the agreement of work programmes for each year group and level. To build on this solid foundation, it is recommended that a focus be put on agreeing and documenting policies on subject-related issues, for example the use of calculators by students, or the acquisition of subject-specific resources. In addition, the inclusion of agendas and records of department meetings would serve to give a more complete picture of the work of the mathematics department.
In all, six lessons were observed. In each of these, the content was appropriate and in line with syllabus requirements. Means of presentation included chalk board, overhead projector and whiteboard and each was appropriate to the material being presented. Teachers had prepared lesson plans, student worksheets, handouts, acetates and relevant examples, and were well-prepared for class. Students, in turn, engaged with the work at hand and, in one instance expressed enjoyment in the success being achieved.
In almost all cases, classroom management was suitably firm, while relaxed and effective. There was evidence of mutual respect between teachers and students and among students. Teachers’ expectations of students’ capabilities were predominantly high and students responded in a positive manner. In line with the principles of assessment for learning, it is recommended that teachers communicate the objectives of lessons to students, setting a context for learning and facilitating review of achievement. Further information on assessment for learning can be accessed on www.ncca.ie, the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.
Student-teacher interactions most often took the form of brief and simple responses to questions posed. There were, however, some instances of teachers’ questions commendably extending students’ understanding and teasing out mathematical ideas. It is recommended, therefore, that all teachers make more use of probing questions, thus helping students to develop mathematical thinking and communication skills.
Good practice in mathematics teaching included accommodating students working at different paces, relating lesson material to ‘real life’, using clear methods and explanations, and building students’ confidence through affirmation of their efforts.
The dominant teaching strategy observed was that of teachers presenting work at the board and students copying down examples and practising working through questions in their copybooks. In recognition of students’ diverse preferred learning styles and to increase active engagement with learning, it is recommended that teachers’ range of methodologies be broadened. This could include increased incorporation of practical activities, pair or group work, and the solving of realistic problems.
A random sample of students’ copybooks was reviewed, revealing relevant work, generally well-presented and monitored, in some instances very closely, by teachers.
Oral questioning in class, the setting and marking of homework including weekend questions, class tests and term examinations are the means by which students’ progress is assessed. Teachers keep records of students’ achievements and report to parents/guardians following term examinations, and at parent/teacher meetings held once during the year for each year group.
It is current policy within the mathematics team not to assign homework to certain groups of students. In recognition of the benefits to be gained for the learner in practicing skills and reinforcing concepts outside of the classroom situation, it is recommended that this policy be reviewed and amended, as discussed during the inspection visit.
Members of the team have some awareness of the school’s performance in the Certificate examinations. It is recommended that full use be made of available examination data through its collation and analysis, thus feeding into ongoing team planning and review activities.
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:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Mathematics and with the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.