An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Saint Caiminís Community School
Shannon, County Clare
Roll number: 91447I
Date of inspection: 13 September 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Caiminís Community School. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the deputy 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; the board chose to accept the report without response.
In St Caiminís Community School, there is a broad range of science subjects available to students that includes Junior Certificate Science, Transition Year (TY) Science, Leaving Certificate Applied Agriculture and Horticulture, Leaving Certificate (LC) Biology, LC Chemistry and LC Physics. It is commendable that all students study Science at junior cycle and this shows good support by the school for the study of Science. There is a high uptake of science subjects at senior cycle and this demonstrates positive attitudes among students to studying science subjects. Students benefit from exposure to Biology, Chemistry, and Physics as part of the schoolís TY programme and this is to be commended as it helps to inform studentsí choices of subjects for senior cycle.
There is good support for students when making their senior-cycle subject choices and this includes support from subject teachers, the guidance counsellor, and an information night for parents. The school provides equal access to all science subjects for all students at senior cycle. Subject option bands are created based on studentsí preferences and this is good practice. In common with many schools nationally, the trend in this school is for more boys than girls to select Physics and for more girls than boys to select Biology. In addressing this trend and in building on the high uptake of science subjects at senior cycle, the science department is encouraged to develop a formal strategy that seeks to promote the study of Physics among girls and the study of Biology among boys.
The time allocation for Science is appropriate and meets with the recommendations of the syllabus. The school strives to ensure that class groups retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle and this is to be commended as it helps to ensure continuity of studentsí learning. In first year, the school operates a subject taster programme but due to timetabling constraints all first-year science classes change teachers every two weeks. The science teachers have done good work in devising a common programme to ensure that continuity of studentsí learning is maintained and senior school management is actively exploring how the timetabling constraints may be overcome.
There are three science laboratories, two preparation rooms, and one demonstration room in this school. These facilities are clean, bright, and well maintained and they are in good repair. Because of the large number of students who study science subjects there is considerable demand for access to the laboratories. Senior school management strives to ensure that all students are timetabled for the laboratory. Where it was not possible to enable timetabled access the science teachers devised a rota to ensure that all students gain time in a laboratory and are able to perform the required amount of experimental work. In addition, the science teachers have shown a high level of adaptability by planning for studentsí experimental work in non-specialist classrooms. The good work done by the science teachers in enabling student performance of practical work is to be commended.
There is a satisfactory level of resources available for the teaching and learning of Science and good work has been done by the science teachers in organising these resources. Management of these resources is facilitated by an annual stocktake and this is good practice.
Each laboratory is equipped with a satisfactory amount of information and communications technologies (ICT) resources. There is a shared network drive containing pedagogical materials that is accessible to teachers. These ICT resources are used frequently in the teaching and learning of Science and this is to be commended.
The school has a health and safety statement that was drawn up in consultation with staff. It is reviewed annually and this is good practice.
There is a well-established learning-support team in the school and members of this team support the science teachers on issues concerning students with special educational needs. Currently, the science team, in collaboration with the Special Education Support Service, is piloting teaching resources for use with students with special educational needs. Discussion with the science teachers showed a high level of professional awareness in the area of special educational needs and a high level of commitment to meeting studentsí individual learning needs.
There is good support by the school for the science teachersí continuing professional development. The science staff has engaged enthusiastically in ongoing continuing professional development and in a wide variety of science-related activities such as participation on National Council for Curriculum and Assessment course committees and delivery of in-service education courses. Engagement by the science staff in these activities is to be commended as it provides opportunities to increase the breadth and depth of professional expertise within the science team and so enhances studentsí learning experiences.
The science teachers work well together as a team and this is exemplified by the collegial, professional and collaborative approach taken to planning for the teaching and learning of science subjects. There are regular, formal, planning meetings and the good work done at these meetings is supported by frequent informal meetings. The science teachers keep minutes of their formal meetings and this practice is to be commended as it helps to ensure that any issues that arise are highlighted and developed.
Good work has been done in drawing up a comprehensive subject plan that beneficially informs the teaching of Science. Students get a simplified copy of the sequence content from the science plan and this is to be commended as good practice as it helps students to plan their work and acts as a revision aid. The science plan is revised annually and this shows that the science staff is reflective in its practices and enthusiastic to continually adapt and improve the teaching and learning of science subjects and this is to be commended.
All lessons that were observed were appropriate to the syllabus. Lessons were well planned and this was shown by the clear learning intentions that were central to each lesson. In some lessons, teachers explicitly told students what the learning intentions were for the lesson and this is to be commended as good practice. Teachers had undertaken appropriate lesson preparation and this was evident in that all requisite materials were to hand and that teachers showed a high level of subject matter expertise in dealing with studentsí questions during lessons.
A range of appropriate methodologies was used effectively in all of the lessons that were observed. All lessons had a variety of methodologies that engaged students with different learning styles. In many lessons, ICT was used to support the presentation of lesson content and its use stimulated studentsí interest. The use of frequent recap and reinforcement of lesson content was a notable feature of many lessons and it served to ensure that students were confident and capable in what they had learned before progressing to new material. The integration of student performance of practical work during theoretical lessons is to be commended as it helped to deepen studentsí understanding of the topics under study. Additionally, the integration of practical work with theoretical work is reflective of the spirit of the syllabus that recommends a hands-on, investigative approach to Science.
Where student performance of practical work was observed it was noted that students worked well in their groups. Their teachers circulated among them while they worked and provided individual help when it was required. The focused nature of the practical work undertaken by students served to reinforce the key learning intentions and this is to be commended. There was an appropriate emphasis on safety during practical work and it was evident from observation that a high level of consciousness regarding safety was being inculcated in students.
Discipline was sensitively maintained in all lessons. There was good rapport among students and teachers and it was underpinned by a strong sense of mutual respect. Frequent affirmation by teachers of studentsí efforts helped to support a secure and positive learning environment. Teachers were generally mindful of involving all students in lesson activities and of varying the level of challenge for students according to their abilities.
The science laboratories benefit from displays of glassware, scientific equipment, charts, posters and some student work. This helps to create a sense of a scientific learning space and these resources can aid teachers when presenting material.
Students were engaged in their learning in all of the lessons that were observed. Interaction between the inspector and students revealed that students have high levels of interest in Science and that they had good levels of knowledge and understanding in the topics under study.
Studentsí progress is assessed regularly and reports are sent home periodically. These practices are appropriate. There are good systems in place to support communication between the school and parents and these include use of studentsí journals, formal reports, parent-teacher meetings, and individual meetings with parents when required.
There is a formal school homework policy and the practice of regularly giving and correcting homework was evident in the lessons that were observed. The science teachers use common assessments for all class groups in December and May of each year and this is to be commended as use of common assessment helps to inform subject planning by enabling comparison of student attainment across class groups and year groups.
Examination of a sample of studentsí copybooks showed that performance of experimental work is a key feature of studentsí science education. Teachers monitor their studentsí work and in the copybooks viewed there was evidence of dating and annotating of studentsí work by teachers. As the science team reviews and builds on its subject plan it may be of use to consider a common approach to feedback on studentsí work.
Students receive verbal feedback on their practical work from their teachers while they are working. In addition, students gain a percentage of marks as part of their end-of-term examinations for successful completion of the write up of their practical work and this practice mirrors the junior certificate examination. In building on their current assessment and feedback practices, it is recommended that the science teachers consider further assessment strategies that reward students for the range of skills gained during performance of practical work.
The science teachers actively support studentsí participation in a wide range of science-related, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities such as the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, science quizzes, Salterís Festival of Chemistry, science camps, and Science Week activities. Participation in such events enhances studentsí enjoyment of Science as a field of study. The good work done by the science staff in supporting studentsí participation in these activities is acknowledged and is to be highly commended.
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 recommendation is made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science and with the deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.