An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Physics
Loreto Secondary School
Spawell Road, Wexford
Roll number: 63660A
Date of inspection: 16 and 17 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Physics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto Secondary School, Wexford. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Physics 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.
Loreto Secondary School offers Science as a core subject in first year and as an optional subject for Junior Certificate. In the current year it is available in three out of four option bands. Numbers choosing Science are high with over ninety percent of students choosing to study Science in second year and third year. All science class groups have a maximum of twenty-four students in line with school policy. Classes are of mixed ability and generally retain the same teacher in second year and third year.
Students are well supported in making an informed choice. First year parents attend an information night prior to students choosing their Junior Certificate subjects. In addition Science is discussed and promoted to students by science teachers. Students are supported individually by the guidance counselling service in making subject choices. This is commended.
Science is a core subject in the optional Transition Year (TY) programme. There are four TY class groups in the current year. A written programme is in place and this programme indicates that there is a good balance between the sciences. Time allocation to TY is good. However, in the interests of following a practical course, it is recommended that each TY group is allocated a double period in a laboratory.
There is good senior cycle provision for Science with Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered for Leaving Certificate. The school provides very good support for students in making informed choices for Leaving Certificate. In the current school year there is one class group in each of fifth and sixth-year Physics, two class groups in Chemistry and three/four class groups in Biology.
Second and third year science students receive sufficient time allocation with one double period and two single periods each week. However, first year science is allocated just one double class period per week. The syllabus states ‘240-270 hours class contact time (normally equivalent to four class periods per week) are recommended for Science over the three years of the junior cycle in order to achieve the aims, objectives and learning outcomes of the syllabus’. This allocation of only two class periods to first year science is compounded by the fact that class periods on Wednesdays are of thirty-five minutes duration. Therefore, it is recommended that, in accordance with syllabus recommendations, first year science be allocated sufficient time. There is good laboratory access with double periods taking place in a laboratory.
There are seven teachers in the science department, six of which teach junior Science. The school has a good induction process in place. New teachers have regular meetings with the principal and induction inservice is provided by the Loreto Education Office. Teachers are facilitated to attend inservice courses and it is commendable that all science teachers have attended recent courses provided by the Junior Science Support Service (JSSS) and have facilitated a school visit by one of the JSSS team. In addition some teachers have participated in a Science and ICT course. Teachers have also participated in other courses including Intel Design and Discovery for TY and senior cycle inservice courses. There has been in-school training on data logging and interactive whiteboards. The school’s ongoing commitment to inservice and training is commended. The school provides financial support to teachers who wish to attend relevant courses and to those who take up membership of a professional association. This is commended.
The school has three modern, well equipped laboratories. The two original laboratories have been recently refurbished and existing facilities were converted to a physics laboratory. These projects were completed under the Department of Education and Science Summer Works Scheme. Each laboratory has a preparation and storage room and a ventilated chemical storeroom. Chemicals are stored in line with best health and safety practice. Equipment is well stored and managed. The school has plans to build a fourth laboratory as part of an overall major school extension project.
The school health and safety statement was drawn up in September 2004 and science teachers were consulted in the process. School management should ensure that this statement is reviewed for the current school year and that the ongoing annual review is dated. The laboratories visited have appropriate safety equipment in place. The science department has identified best safety practice in the science plan.
ICT facilities in the science department are good and are currently being upgraded so that each laboratory will have a laptop computer and data-projector in addition to the computers already available. Broadband is available in all science laboratories. Data logging equipment is available. It is commendable that some teachers are attending ICT courses to broaden their skills and it is recommended that this practice be extended across the Science department.
Students from Loreto Secondary School have participated in many extra-curricular and out-of-school activities, which include student participation in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, Science quizzes and Olympiads and attendance at Science-related lectures in third-level institutions. In addition, guest speakers are invited to the school to speak on science related topics.
There are subject liaison personnel for each of Science, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Their role is to liaise with other subject departments, to receive correspondence and notify relevant colleagues and to record minutes of subject meetings. The school also has an assistant principal post whose duties include responsibility for science department budgeting, ordering materials and equipment and preparing an inventory of equipment each year. An annual budget is allocated by the board of management to the science department. All coordination duties are carried out very effectively. A general science planning meeting takes place in September and two further timetabled subject department planning meetings take place over the year. Minutes are taken and are relayed to school management. Further meetings may take place by request and many informal meetings take place as the need arises. The provision for collaborative subject planning is commended.
There are good and well-thought-out science and physics plans in place and it is commendable that that these plans are reviewed regularly. These plans include much useful information including effective teaching methodologies, cross-curricular planning, resources, assessment and reporting practice and records of teacher continuous professional development. There is a section on curriculum content for long-term planning for each year of the courses. The work of the teachers in developing this plan is highly commended. There is scope for further development of this plan to include: information on procedures to share best practice following courses attended; monitoring the uptake of Science at junior and senior level and the expansion of long-term curriculum planning to include specific methodologies and resources for each part of the course.
It is commendable that many aspects of the applications of Science are included in the TY programme. However, it is recommended that this programme be written up with reference to the TY guidelines. For example areas such as resources, cross-curricular links, evaluation and assessment need to be addressed in this plan. In addition the new plan needs to be definitive, rather than presenting a non-prescriptive list of possible topics.
Advance planning of lessons observed was very good. Teaching resources and practical equipment were ready in advance. The lesson content was generally well planned and this contributed to good lesson structure and delivery and to successful outcomes of lessons observed.
The quality of teaching was very high. Lessons were well structured and organised. There was a clear sense of interest and motivation on the part of students and teachers in all lessons. Students were generally enthusiastic about their work. Science was made relevant to students’ everyday lives. This is commended. There was very good individual support and differentiated teaching methods which ensured that all students were well catered for in the mixed ability setting. Science and physics concepts were explained with clarity. Affirmation of students’ work was a strong feature of many lessons observed.
Some lessons were of a revision nature, which was appropriate to the time of the school year and to the forthcoming examinations. Apparatus had been set up in advance as an aid to revision and this helped immensely to consolidate the learning experience. Various experimental techniques were demonstrated in many lessons to reinforce the learning and revision process. However, the distribution of a relevant worksheet would have helped further to reinforce learning and enrich the learning experience in some lessons. The well-designed layout of the laboratories and the small numbers in lessons contributed to the overall successful outcomes of many lessons.
A variety of effective methodologies were used in the lessons evaluated. There was an example where ICT was used well in delivering the lesson content. The use of ICT was interspersed with a myriad of other activities including teacher demonstration and student practical work. Water was investigated and discussed in detail with the aid of a well-prepared and well-researched presentation using a laptop computer and data-projector. Students carried out tests for water using pre-prepared materials and apparatus. In addition, the whiteboard was used to review the lesson content. There was another example where specific heat capacity was being investigated and was demonstrated using data logging equipment and temperature probes. A video camera and TV were used as an aid to enable all students to see the equipment clearly and to read the displays. There was a very good discussion on possible errors when the calculated and observed temperatures were noted to be different. The whiteboard was used well as an aid to solving sample problems and students were assigned similar problems as a homework assignment. However, in some lessons there was scope for the use of ICT or the overhead projector as an enhancement to the lesson content being taught.
Most lessons observed incorporated some practical activities. Good safety procedures were in place with students wearing safety goggles and laboratory coats when needed. There was a very good investigative approach to learning in all lessons. Students generally worked in small groups while getting hands on experience of entire investigations. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all practical lessons. There was an example where students were investigating the conditions necessary for germination. Students came up with suggestions as to how to approach the experiment and carried out their work in an orderly environment and receiving individual support when needed. There was another example where students were investigating the separation of soil from water by filtration and separating salt from water by evaporation. Students were motivated by the task in hand and worked with enthusiasm. Clear links were made between the practical activity and everyday life applications. In all cases students helped to tidy up the apparatus at the conclusion of the investigations. The level of student participation is commendable.
While participation levels were good in most lessons, it is important that efforts are made to enable all students to interact more fully in some lessons. It is particularly important that students are sufficiently challenged to reach their full potential.
There was effective use made of questioning in all lessons. Many questions were used as an aid for revision and recall while others were used to stimulate interest in the material being presented. Teachers were constantly aware of the range of abilities in each class group and tailored their questions at varying levels. This is highly commended. However, it is recommended, in an effort to improve participation that more individual directed questions be used in some lessons. Students reacted positively when their correct responses were affirmed.
The uptake of higher-level Science and Physics in Loreto Secondary School, Wexford is very good. Students were generally confident at answering questions on their work during the lessons observed. They generally demonstrated good problem solving abilities and applied themselves to their work in an exemplary manner.
There is good ongoing monitoring of student progress by means of regular class tests, class questioning and checking of students’ assigned work. In addition, fifth year physics students complete sample examination questions while sixth year physics students are expected to complete past examination questions weekly which are graded and returned to students with individual comments. This practice is highly commended.
There are common summer examinations for first, second and fifth year students. This is commended. At Christmas examinations take place in class time. Third year and sixth year students sit pre-examinations which are corrected externally. TY students undergo continuous assessment in line with TY guidelines.
There is good contact with parents. Parent teacher meetings are held annually for each year group. Reports are sent to parents of first year, second year and TY following Christmas and summer examinations. Reports are issued to parents of examination classes following the pre-examinations. Teachers keep good records of student attendance, achievement and performance and these are communicated to parents.
A school homework policy is in place which gives clear guidelines to students on the recommended amount of time a student should spend on Science during each year of study. Homework examined is generally completed to a good standard and was assigned at the conclusion of many lessons observed.
Student practical records are maintained in a laboratory notebook. Some teachers had provided annotated feedback in the notebooks. This is very good practice. It is recommended that the good practice of annotating practical notebooks be extended across the Science department and in addition that there is follow-up on corrections completed by students. In addition, the good practice of allocating a portion of the marks in school examinations for practical work completed and recorded should also be extended to all in an effort to improve the quality of this work. The first year notebooks were of a very good standard.
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 Physics, together 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 warmly welcomes this inspection report as it strongly affirms the professionalism, commitment and organisation of the Science and Physics Departments in the school as well as the strong management support for both subjects.
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 school’s Health and Safety Statement continues to be formally reviewed on an annual basis.
The issue of allocating additional time to first year science is one that will be addressed this term in consultation with all educational partners in the school. If change is made, however, it cannot be at the expense of any other subject area as the school prides itself on the inclusiveness of and equality of opportunity afforded by the current first year curriculum.
All subject plans continue to be developed and expanded on an ongoing basis.