An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Christ King Secondary School
Half Moon Lane, South Douglas Road, Cork
Roll number: 62692I
Date of inspection: 29 and 30 January 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Christ King Secondary S chool. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Biology, and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of these subjects 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 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.
Junior Science is a core subject for first-year students in the school. It becomes optional in second year and third year. It is currently set in two option blocks, against Business Studies or German in one block and Home Economics, Art or Music in the other. The majority of the current second-year and third-year student cohort study Science for their Junior Certificate. A weekly time allocation of two single lessons and one double lesson is assigned for each year of study of the subject.
Following Junior Certificate, students enter the optional Transition Year (TY) programme. Science subjects are allocated two single lessons and one double lesson weekly. At Leaving Certificate, students can study the established Leaving Certificate with the option of taking the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) as part of their studies. Biology, Chemistry and Physics are the three optional science subjects offered in the school to the students. They are all being studied in both years one and two of Leaving Certificate, with a time allocation of one double lesson and three single lessons weekly in each year. This allocation is within curriculum guidelines.
The science facilities comprise five laboratories with associated shared preparation area and chemical stores. A demonstration room is also available. Two of the laboratories are located in the newer part of the school. The other three laboratories are older and in service longer. The location of the laboratories in different parts of the school makes the sharing of resources difficult. However, in order to overcome this difficulty, the science team members have designated all laboratories for the teaching of junior Science, with materials and glassware accessible to students, which is good practice. The science team has also designated the laboratories at senior cycle. This arrangement allows for the proper resources to be located and shared between adjoining laboratories. Access to the laboratories is also organised by the team. Not all lessons can occur in a laboratory due to the high demand on the spaces. However, all classes have access to laboratory time on a weekly basis. This collaboration for laboratory access is very important and should be maintained. All the laboratories are well maintained and organised. The associated preparation and storage areas are also well organised and maintained. The team has spent a considerable amount of time in the setting up of the laboratory spaces, which is noted and commended. In addition, non-science classes do not occur in the laboratories, which is good practice.
There are currently eight teachers in the science team. All are involved in teaching junior Science with four teachers involved in teaching Leaving Certificate Biology. Teacher allocation to classes is on a rota or continuity basis. A subject co-ordinator is appointed, within the remit of a post of responsibility. The main role of the co-ordinator is to lead and co-ordinate the science team to ensure that the relevant syllabuses are delivered according to their relevant guidelines. Both formal and informal meetings are held and minutes recorded. Formal meetings occur at least once a term as part of the school’s ongoing school development planning (SDP). No set budget is provided but management facilitates requests made by the team through the co-ordinator. The continual development and not just the maintenance of resources should be an objective of the team going forward.
A range of posters was displayed on the walls of the laboratories. Some of this work was of student origin, which is to be commended and encouraged. All material displayed should reflect work being completed in class and therefore aid and enhance the students’ learning. To help with the delivery of Science, the science team also has access to televisions, video resources, DVDs, CDs, data projectors, data logging equipment, the school library, computer room facilities and laptops. Some of these are permanent resources within the sciences, which is to be commended. Continued use and development is recommended.
The school has a health and safety statement. Teachers were consulted through staff meetings, working groups and individual submissions in the preparation of this statement, which is good practice. Management stated that the current statement is reviewed annually, with the last review completed in the last three months. There is a section relating to these subject areas in the overall statement, which is good practice. All the laboratories have access to safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, safety blankets and safety glasses, which is good practice. The guidelines on safety: Safety in School Science and Safety in the School Laboratory published by the Department of Education and Science are also available.
Opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) in Science and previously in Biology and the physical sciences have been availed of and encouraged by management. Some members of the science team have also been involved in the “Intel teach to the future programme” and the “Stars cancer module practitioner programme”, which is to be commended. In addition the school has held whole-staff planning events in the area of SDP and health and safety.
The students are encouraged to become involved in the Young Scientist and Technology competition. Fieldtrips, quizzes and visiting speakers are also included in the curriculum of science students in the school. The benefit of these experiences to the students must not be under estimated as a means of reinforcing and enhancing their learning. Such activities are to be commended and encouraged for all science students.
Common plans are present for all year groups, which is good practice. The team could consider the development and expansion of the plans into areas such as learning outcomes. Maintaining regular reviews of the current plans is essential, with any modifications to the plans outlined on the documents for the particular year group. In addition, the team should establish central tracking systems. This would involve a central tracker sheet for each class group in each year and could be placed in the science-planning folder. On this sheet at regular intervals, the teacher would enter work completed by each class. This would aid the review process and would also inform a new teacher of work completed by a class group, if required. Other areas to be considered by the team could be assessment methods, practical work, homework and the further development and integration of information and communication technology (ICT) in future planning.
Observed lessons were planned and structured to provide continuity with the previous lessons. Records of work and assessments completed to date with each class were presented. Short-term planning was evident through the coherent theme present in the observed lessons. In addition, there was prior preparation of the variety of resources required for all lesson types observed, which is good practice.
Lessons observed began with the roll being taken. The topics being studied in the lessons observed were conduction, carbon dioxide, plant hormones, digestive system, Coursework B, plant tissues and plant reproduction. In the classes observed there was evidence of a good rapport between the students and the teachers with no discipline difficulties evident.
Whether the lesson was practical or theory-based, the main focus was on getting the student to think for themselves. This was facilitated through allowing sufficient time for tasks to be completed. Questioning was also very important in this approach. Both recall and higher-order questions were employed, which is good practice. Teachers were not afraid to wait for an answer from a student, with good probing techniques observed to help students obtain the correct answer.
Lesson pace was appropriate and helped facilitate student thinking. Different methodologies observed including the use of ICT, practical activities, demonstrations and worksheets, which helped to enhance student engagement. At the start of most lessons observed, good linkages were made with previous work completed which aided student learning. The consolidation of learning should also be done during the lessons before moving forward, to ensure student understanding. The teachers had clear aims and objectives for the lessons observed. Consideration should be given to communicating these to the students at the start of the lesson.
In some lessons, homework was corrected. This was done orally in class with students invited to contribute their answers. The use of the board to put up the right answers may be required in some instances to help student learning. The assigning of homework occurred at the completion of most classes observed. Students were either given a worksheet for completion or assigned questions from their textbook. In the main, the homework assigned was designed to assist the students in learning and retaining the topic, which is good practice.
Practical activities occurred in many the observed lessons, which comprised both mandatory and non-mandatory activities, and is to be commended. Students worked in groups of a maximum of three students during observed practical work. This involved the students setting up the equipment for themselves. Students were very engaged in their various practical activities. Worksheets were provided in some cases for students to follow and also gave a focus for their work. While students were working, the teachers circulated giving assistance and answering questions when required, which is to be commended. Good organisation allowed the activities to run smoothly. On completion of the activities, students cleaned up, this is good practice. Students were then asked to share their results and conclusions under the direction and guidance of the teacher. This helped to consolidate the learning and contributed to the students’ ability to independently make a record of their investigative work, which is to be highly commended. This is good practice and could also be adopted for example to summarise material delivered during a theory class.
The school has adopted a pro-forma laboratory copy for the students. The regular monitoring of student practical notebooks is also encouraged and could be incorporated into the scheme for assessment for all year groups. Examination of student practical copies indicated the completion of a significant amount of practical activities, which is to be commended.
The school has a formal homework and assessment policy. The teachers monitor the implementation of this policy on a daily basis. Informal assessment of students’ learning occurs daily. This is achieved through various types of classroom activities such as the correction of homework, oral questioning at the start of and during the lessons, portfolio assessment and through practical activities. Some of these activities were observed in the lessons viewed. Continual assessment also occurs with class tests administered by the teacher on completion of a unit of work or a topic. A minimum number of three assessments for the first term have been established for some year groups. The science team could decide on a minimum level of assessment required for each year group as part of the planning process going forward. The teacher retains all assessment results, which is good practice.
Formal student assessment occurs through tests at Christmas and summer. State-examination classes also sit pre-examinations in the spring of their examination year. Formal reports are issued on completion of these assessments. Parent-teacher meetings are also held for all classes annually. The student journal, comments on homework and marks on homework could also be used to inform parents of student progress. The teachers analyse certificate examination results. This information is made available to the parents, board of management, students and the public. In addition, the team could consider awarding all students marks for their practical copybooks as part of their overall grade in the subject. This could have the effect of providing the students with further motivation for engagement with the practical elements of the course.
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 Science and Biology and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, November 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of Christ King Girls’ Secondary School welcomes the very positive report from the Inspectorate on the subject inspection of Science and Biology. The Board is particularly pleased that the findings clearly identified:
· High quality of teaching and learning in the subject.
· As being very supportive of students, reflecting the Presentation ethos.
· The high level of collaboration between teachers of Science and Biology.
· The widespread and comprehensive use of I.C.T. in the classroom.
· The quality of relationships between students and staff.
· The support for continuing professional development of the Science teachers.
· The school’s involvement in the Young Scientist and Technology Competition.
· The use of both formal, informal and continual assessment.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The Board of Management acknowledge the recommendations made in the report and these are being considered with a view to their implementation.
As is noted, there is a strong track record of review and development in Christ King Secondary School.
As recommended in the report Science teachers have now introduced a system for awarding marks for laboratory copies. These results will form part of their assessments.
Other recommendations will be addressed in the context of ongoing planning.