An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Chemistry
Laurel Hill Secondary School FCJ
Roll number: 64260M
Date of inspection: 30 April 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Chemistry
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Laurel Hill Secondary School, Limerick. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Chemistry 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 laboratories 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.
Science is in a strong position in the school. Junior Certificate Science is a core subject and Biology, Physics and Chemistry are offered as optional subjects in senior cycle. The uptake of Biology and Chemistry is very good. Management and staff should examine the reasons for the low uptake of Physics and work together in an attempt to reverse the trend.
The Transition Year (TY) programme is compulsory. Students choose their subjects prior to entry into TY. The year is divided into three ten week modular blocks for optional subjects. For the first two modules students study two of the subjects on an option line and take their final choice of subject for Leaving Certificate for the third module. While acknowledging that the system currently in place facilitates students in experiencing a number of subjects, setting the option lines in advance of TY does not allow students to sample all Leaving Certificate subjects in accordance with the philosophy of TY. The school should consider offering students the opportunity to sample all Leaving Certificate subjects in TY.
The time allocation for all science subjects is in line with the class contact time recommended in the syllabuses. The timetabling supports the delivery of the curriculum, with practical work being facilitated by means of double lesson periods and almost all classes receiving an even spread of classes over the week. This is good practice. Access to the four laboratories which are shared with Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ is organised among the science teachers of both schools at the outset of each academic year. A good level of collaboration has resulted in the development of a laboratory access timetable and this ensures that all class groups in both schools have weekly access. All classes are of mixed ability.
The laboratory technician collaborates well with the science teachers of both schools and effectively manages the resources and facilities available for the teaching of the sciences and supports teachers in preparing for student practical work. The role of the technician is clearly outlined in the science department plan.
Commendably, students have an input into the creation of the subject-option blocks for the Leaving Certificate. Their initial choices are used to create a “best-fit” model for senior cycle subjects. Students entering TY and during TY are supported in making appropriate subject choices.
A fine level of contact is maintained between the subject teachers and the learning-support department, thus striving to ensure that the needs of all students are met.
Support is given to new teachers by colleagues within the science department. This is laudable. The science staff has undertaken Departmental continuing professional development in the sciences with the support of school management. In addition the commitment to exploring new teaching methodologies and sharing expertise is evident by for example, the willingness of one teacher to act as an assistant tutor in the ‘Discover Science’ project. This is commended.
The school is well resourced for the teaching of the sciences, with three well-equipped laboratories. Although the fourth laboratory does not have running water on the students’ benches and is therefore not suitable for some experimental work, the rotation of the laboratories by agreement of the teachers of both schools overcomes this deficiency. The equipment, the majority of which is stored in the laboratories, is very well organised The laboratories generally contain scientific posters thus enhancing the scientific learning environment. Display of students’ work should be considered as a means of celebrating students’ achievements.
There is a high level of safety equipment in the laboratories and safety rules are on display. Optimum safety guidelines would indicate that a single electrical isolation switch similar to the installed gas cut-off point should be present in each laboratory. This matter should be rectified. A storage and preparation area adjoins the upstairs laboratories. The vast majority of the chemicals are stored in the chemistry laboratory downstairs. This is not in accordance with safety guidelines. It is recommended that the chemistry laboratory be reassigned to one of the upstairs laboratories in order to facilitate the safe storage of chemicals in a separate chemical store. Chemicals are segregated according to safe storage classifications in appropriate cabinets. It is recommended that chemicals be colour coded for continued ease of safe storage and that a list of the storage classifications be available for consultation.
The school has a health and safety statement, which was reviewed in 2009. With specific regard to the sciences, the statement outlines the hazards, risks and control procedures for the chemicals. Building on the good work to date, the existing health and safety statement should be extended to include all areas of the school premises, such as specialist rooms.
It is commendable that the science teachers are supported financially by management for the updating, repair and enhancement of existing resources. Significantly all laboratories have internet access and it was reported that appropriate hardware will be installed as soon as it is feasible. The science department contains overhead projectors, a computer in one of the laboratories and data logging equipment and there is access to a data projector.
A high level of provision is made for co-curricular and extracurricular science activities, including fieldtrips, participation in science week activities, Scifest, the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and the Science Olympiads. The school has achieved some success in these competitions. Those involved are to be praised for their commitment to facilitating these educational and stimulating activities.
Collaboration among the science and chemistry teachers has resulted in the development of common science and chemistry plans outlining for example long-term programmes of work listing the topics to be covered for the sciences, resources that can be used, health and safety and co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Building on this fine work, these programmes should be further developed over time to include for example specific timeframes for each named topic and the resources for the learning and teaching of each topic. Subject syllabuses and Guidelines for Teachers should provide the basis for such detailed planning. It is good to note that an outline of the examination revision programme for Chemistry has been developed in parallel with individual teachers’ plans.
Formal departmental planning is commendably supported and facilitated by the co-ordinator and the position is rotated among the science teachers. The co-ordinator convenes department meetings and records the decisions and action plans for specific personnel as appropriate. This is good practice.
A TY plan that incorporates a good range of activities has been developed. In line with best practice and the philosophy of TY, students experience a range of topics not on the Leaving Certificate syllabus. The inclusion of such topics in the TY programme should be extended. It is commended that independent learning opportunities such as project work and occasionally presentations by students form components of the chemistry module. Further implementation of other independent learning strategies is encouraged. Many of the students study Chemistry during one or other of the first two sessions in TY. Therefore, the current modular system whereby students choose their subjects for the Leaving Certificate in advance of the third session has planning implications with regard to the modular content for this session. Therefore it is recommended that the TY chemistry plan be extended to include the content and methodologies to be studied in the third session. Inclusion of content not studied in the earlier sessions of TY is strongly recommended in order to sustain students’ interest. It is the stated intention of the chemistry teachers to develop a collaborative plan that will include the most appropriate elements of their individual TY plans. The commencement of this work is strongly encouraged.
Lessons observed, as well as planned programmes of work, were found to reflect syllabus requirements. Preparation for classes was noted as being at a high standard.
Classroom management was effective. The laboratory arrangement was conducive to an orderly and participative learning environment and the learning activities, including student practical work were well managed. A very good teacher-student rapport was observed and students were comfortable asking questions in the positive environment. Their contributions were encouraged and affirmed. The teachers supported the students in their learning activities.
Lessons were well structured and the pace was generally good. It is recommended that the learning outcomes for the lesson be shared with students at the outset of all lessons. These could then be revisited by the students during the review session of the lesson to ascertain their learning. Differentiated learning outcomes could be shared by outlining to students what must and could be learned during the lesson.
Questioning was used to good effect in some instances to set the scene for the lesson. In one instance students’ previous knowledge of Junior Certificate material was effectively used to introduce the topic. Where observed, links with everyday experiences made the subject tangible.
A good level of skills and competencies was observed as students conducted their practical work. Students’ proficiency in the use of data logging equipment is commended. Of particular note is the use of student practical work to demonstrate a difficult concept. This strategy was very effective in developing students’ learning. Building on the good work observed it is recommended that time be factored into the planning of all practical lessons for a plenary session. This would facilitate whole-class discussion and questioning that would clarify and consolidate students’ learning and assist in the identification of difficulties in understanding the underlying concept.
Student outcomes in terms of knowledge and skills were generally very good. Their enthusiasm and enjoyment of the subject was evident. Students were generally able to communicate effectively during the inspection demonstrating a clear understanding of the concepts learned during their lessons. In the main students’ written work indicated a good level of learning.
A good range of assessment modes is utilised to assess students’ learning in Chemistry. Oral assessments were effectively integrated into some lessons. All students have a laboratory notebook or file in which they record all their practical work. Practical notebooks are generally of a high standard and are closely monitored in the main. Some student laboratory notebooks and files illustrate a number of good examples of the desirable practice of teacher annotation, which reflects the principle of assessment for learning (AfL). Teachers should consider building on this good practice. Further information on AfL can be accessed at www.ncca.ie.
Formal whole-school examinations are held twice-yearly for all class groups and these assessments are supplemented by regular class tests. The setting of common summer examinations for first-year students was introduced in summer 2008 and will be extended to second year students in 2009. Common terminal examinations also take place in Chemistry when the number of class groups facilitates this practice. The setting of common summer examination papers is excellent, as it helps to establish a common direction for the subject, whilst ensuring consistency and cohesiveness within the department. It is noteworthy that assessment of TY Chemistry includes student project work. It is commended that students’ practical work and laboratory notebooks in Science are assessed as a component of the end-of-term examinations. Such practice reflects the assessment objectives of the Junior Certificate syllabus in particular, and an aggregate mark that includes this component of the examination provides a more accurate indicator of a student’s ability in the subject.
Commendably, written homework is given to consolidate the work done in lessons. This written work includes word searches and completion of questions from the State examinations as appropriate. This is praiseworthy.
An annual analysis is conducted to compare the outcome of the school’s results in the subject in the State Examinations to national norms. This is good practice as it assists in planning. A good level of contact is maintained between the school and parents.
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 Chemistry 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 accepted the report and thanked all involved for such a comprehensive document.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.