An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Mathematics
Heywood Community School
Heywood, Ballinakill, County Laois
Roll number: 91427C
Date of inspection: 31 March 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Mathematics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Heywood Community School. 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 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 principal, deputy principal and 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.
Mathematics is very well provided for in Heywood Community School. The mathematics department is well organised and well resourced. The department comprises eleven teachers all of whom have an appropriate qualification in Mathematics. Mathematics teachers are assigned to classes and levels by rotation in junior cycle, while responsibility for teaching higher level in Leaving Certificate is shared between three of the teachers.† Teachers retain the same class group from second into third year and from fifth into sixth year. This is very good practice as it ensures consistency in curriculum delivery and facilitates long-term planning. The mathematics teachers have access to the schoolís main computer room and to portable technologies such as laptops and data projectors and a range of resources to facilitate active teaching methods and activity-based and discovery learning.
The work of the mathematics department is characterised by effective leadership, innovation and a spirit of collaboration. The members of the department have been proactive in identifying and procuring appropriate educational software and in developing their own resources. The schoolís information and communications technologies (ICT) co-ordinator is a member of the mathematics department and assumes responsibility for managing the departmentís ICT resources and for maintaining a current inventory. A virtual learning environment (VLE) has been installed on the schoolís intranet and is used to facilitate collaboration in resource development and department planning. In addition, the schoolís website has a page dedicated to Mathematics. The page is maintained by a member of the mathematics department and contains revision materials, mathematical games and links to a wide range of appropriate educational websites. The innovative and timely approach adopted by the department to developments in integrating ICT in every facet of its operation is very good practice.
Timetabling provision for Mathematics is very good. All junior cycle classes are provided with five periods of Mathematics per week. Upon completion of junior cycle, students can opt to enter transition year (TY) or to go directly into fifth year. There are four periods of Mathematics per week in TY and six periods per week thereafter. All mathematics classes are forty minutes long. Mathematics classes are timetabled concurrently within the bands in junior and senior cycle. This is very good practice as it facilitates movement between levels and allows students to follow the highest level possible for as long as possible. The distribution of mathematics classes throughout the week is very good and the balance of provision between morning and afternoon is most satisfactory.
Mathematics classes are mixed ability in first year. A common programme is followed throughout the year and, following common assessments at Christmas and again just prior to the summer holidays, classes are banded for the remainder of the junior cycle. In order to inform the design and delivery of the first-year programme, it is recommended that all incoming students sit a competency test in Mathematics and that the outcomes be used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the incoming cohort and to determine the key objectives of the programme.
Procedures for identifying and supporting students with special educational needs or in need of learning support are very good. The educational and other needs of incoming students are established through appropriate standardised tests, ongoing contact with relevant teachers in the feeder primary schools, interviews with parents and consultation with the National Educational Psychology Service (NEPS). The most appropriate model of support for students identified as being of need of additional support in Mathematics is agreed in consultation with NEPS and is delivered through small-group withdrawal from subjects other than Mathematics.
The special educational needs department is very well resourced and has ready access to suitable ICT equipment, appropriate software and other dedicated numeracy-support materials. Ongoing communication is maintained between the special educational needs team and the members of the mathematics department. The teachers are provided with confidential profiles of each student with identified special educational needs in each of their class groups and individual education plans (IEPs) are also being developed. The use of IEPs will further enhance the cohesion with which the special educational needs programme in Mathematics is delivered and this is commended.
Students with exceptional mathematical abilities are also identified as part of the schoolís assessment procedures. Additional support in the form of differentiated teaching and access to dedicated programmes in NUI Maynooth is provided for this cohort. This is very good practice.
Management are very accommodating in facilitating teacher attendance at continuing professional development courses. The subject development plan for Mathematics lists the courses attended by the different team members, gives details of upcoming courses and the materials presented at those courses attended by a member of the team. All of the mathematics team are members of the Irish Mathematics Teachersí Association (IMTA) and the school management pays the cost of membership.
There is admirable commitment to promoting positive attitudes to Mathematics in the school. Students are encouraged to take part in a range of extra-curricular activities pertaining to Mathematics. Junior cycle students participate in Problem Solving for Irish Second Level Mathematicians (PRISM) competitions, while senior cycle mathematics students participate in Team Maths. The teachers and students also engage in a range of in-school activities to celebrate Maths Week and World Maths Day.
Subject department planning in Mathematics is very well established. A co-ordinator is in place and regular meetings are held. The schedule of departmental meetings together with the agendas and minutes of these meetings are contained in the subject department plan for Mathematics. The subject department plan is very comprehensive and is reviewed every two years. The review is informed by an analysis of the performance of the students in the state examinations with reference to the statistics supplied by the State Examinations Commission. This progressive approach to subject planning is very good practice.
A particularly impressive feature of department planning in Mathematics is the level of collaboration evident in the planning documentation and the degree to which the department is kept abreast of ongoing developments in Mathematics. The co-ordinator and other members of the department attend relevant dissemination events and any materials presented at such events is included in the subject department plan.
The subject department plan contains very detailed schemes of work for each year and level. The schemes of work include the intended learning outcomes and the most appropriate teaching methods and resources to be employed in achieving them. In order to further enhance the very good practice in planning, it is recommended that procedures for carrying out core mathematical operations and for integrating different areas of the course during lesson delivery be agreed and included in the subject development plan for Mathematics. The schoolís VLE is the most appropriate vehicle for facilitating this process and for hosting the agreed outcomes.
A separate plan for Mathematics in TY is in place. The plan reflects the aims and objectives of the TY programme and provides opportunities for a range of teaching and learning strategies to be employed in its delivery. The content of the mathematics programme is comprehensive, addresses underlying weaknesses in the studentsí prior learning and is sufficiently differentiated to challenge the more able students.
Planning for the inclusion of resources in lesson delivery is very good.† A wide range of resources is available to the members of the department. These include worksheets, PowerPoint presentations, videotapes, subject-specific software and materials to facilitate active teaching and learning. These resources were very effectively integrated into many of the lessons observed during the inspection and served to create an atmosphere that was visually and intellectually stimulating and to reduce reliance on the textbook as the primary teaching and learning resource.
The lessons observed during the inspection were very well planned. The material covered was appropriate and was, in most cases, in line with the schedule contained in the subject department plan for Mathematics.
The lessons proceeded at a suitable pace and were inclusive of all of the students. The sequencing of the material was very good and the material was presented in a logical fashion. There was very good adherence to the application of method in problem solving and the students were encouraged to suggest alternative approaches and explore their relative merits. This is very good practice.
A range of teaching methods was in evidence that in each case served to enhance student participation in the lessons and to underpin the lessonsí objectives. In one instance pair work, supported by the use of models, was used very effectively to enable students to explore basic concepts in geometry. The activity was supported by an excellent differentiated worksheet, which allowed the students to generalise and apply their findings.
ICT was successfully integrated into a lesson where the students were investigating the graphs of functions. The students worked in pairs at a computer terminal and using dynamic software plotted various functions and explored the features of each one. Each pair was provided with a worksheet detailing the functions to be explored and containing searching questions to direct and support the explorations. In solving the various problems, some of the students utilised the features of the software while others relied on more traditional techniques they had learned in earlier lessons. Each approach was characterised by good discussions and the application of sound mathematical principles. The lesson could have been further enhanced by allowing time at the end of the lesson for the different approaches to be discussed and explored by the entire group.
In another lesson, ICT was very effectively used to illustrate how the roots, turning points and other features of interest of quadratic functions are identified and located. A laptop and data projector allowed the teacher to draw and manipulate the graphs of the functions and to project the process and outcomes onto a marker board. The teacher was also free to use the marker board to draw studentsí attention to the various features of interest and to utilise traditional methods to explain the rationale behind the solutions to the different problems. In addition to creating a visually stimulating environment, the use of the ICT had the additional benefit of reducing the time spent in drawing the graphs. This meant that the lesson could focus on the problem solving process and on applying the solutions in a variety of situations.
The innovative teaching methods outlined above, and evident in many of the lessons visited during the inspection, would bring considerable added value in lesson delivery in the mixed-ability setting in the first year. It is therefore recommended that the teaching methods currently being utilised in first-year mathematics classes be extended to include pair work, ICT integration, discovery learning and other student-centred activities.
Student behaviour and engagement was very good. The lessons proceeded in an atmosphere of mutual respect and the teachers taught with enthusiasm and care. The teachers had high expectations of the studentsí behaviour and engagement and matched this with the quality of their own preparation and classroom management.
The quality of students learning was also very good. The students responded knowledgeably when questioned by the teachers and responded confidently during their interactions with the inspector. Analysis of student performance in Mathematics in the certificate examinations further illustrates the very good standards being attained.
Assessment practices in the school are, in almost all cases, very good. Ongoing assessment occurs through teacher questioning in class, the provision of in-class tests at the end of each topic and formal examinations. In some instances the very good practice of peer assessment was also in evidence. A draft homework policy has been developed and is being implemented by the members of the mathematics department. Homework is regularly assigned and corrected. The studentsí homework copies are very well maintained and are monitored regularly. Assessment for learning is identified in the draft homework policy as a key strategy in providing feedback to students and it is evident that this element of the policy is being implemented by the majority of the mathematics teachers.
Formal examinations are held for non-examination classes at Christmas and just prior to the summer holidays. Common papers with common and agreed marking schemes are provided within levels for all formal examinations. The layout and standard of the papers set for the formal examinations are similar to those the students will encounter in the certificate examinations. This is very good practice. Students in examination classes sit formal examinations in October and sit mock examinations in January each year. Reports issue to parents after the formal and mock examinations.
Practice in relation to recording student attendance and attainment in class and formal tests is very good. Roll call is taken at the beginning of class and is noted in the teacherís diary. Student compliance with homework completion and their performance in class and formal tests are also recorded.
Ongoing communication with parents occurs through the use of the student diary and telephone contact, and formal letters are also issued if the need arises. In addition, each class group has one parent-teacher meeting per year and less formal meetings can be arranged if required.
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 principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, November 2009