An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physics
Synge Street CBS
Synge Street, Dublin 8
Roll number: 60470D
Date of inspection: 29 January 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Synge Street CBS, Dublin. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physics 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 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 teacher. 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 a core subject in Synge Street CBS. There are three class groups in each year of junior cycle, one of which follows the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP). Science class groups have a maximum of twenty-four students with fifteen students in the JCSP classes.
There is very good senior cycle science provision with fifth and sixth-year classes in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. The uptake for Physics has remained at a constant sustainable level for many years. It is also commendable that Chemistry has been successfully reinstated on the curriculum. There is one fifth and sixth-year class group in each of the senior science subjects in the current year. Third-year students and their parents are well informed in relation to subject choices by senior management, the guidance service and the subject teachers. Some students are advised to take the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme in which an elective module in Science is offered.
Time allocation to Science at junior cycle and Physics at senior cycle is in line with syllabus requirements. Physics is allocated one double and three single class periods, all of which are conducted in a laboratory. This is commendable as practical equipment for investigations and demonstrations is readily at hand.
School management facilitates attendance at inservice courses and these courses have been well attended over recent years. In addition, the school provides financial support to teachers who wish to take up membership of a relevant professional body or subject association. Further junior science inservice has been booked in the current year with a visit from the Junior Science Support Service (JSSS) planned for February.
There are three science laboratories in the school. The physics laboratory has an adjoining preparation room, while the other laboratories have a shared area for preparation. There are additional storage rooms with corridor access. Laboratories were maintained in an orderly way with ease of access to materials and equipment.
The school’s health and safety statement dates back to 2001. A review was initiated in 2007 but has not been finalised to date, and it is recommended that this work be brought to completion. Science teachers should be consulted in the process with possible hazards in the science areas clearly identified. Some further issues identified in the course of the evaluation should be addressed: the chemical storage room should be ventilated; chemicals should be stored using a colour coded scheme; and flame proof cabinets should be put in place for flammable materials. The physics laboratory is in need of a modern gas safety shut down valve in line with best safety practice.
The physics department contains practical equipment, much of which is now quite dated. It is recommended that an inventory of existing physics equipment be drawn up with a view to ensuring that working practical equipment is available in sufficient quantities for all mandatory Leaving Certificate practical investigations to be carried out by students. ICT resources in the science laboratories have been updated substantially in recent years and the physics laboratory now has broadband internet access, computers, data logging equipment and a data-projector. This is commended. Teachers are encouraged to continue to pursue suitable ICT courses to broaden their skills which will enhance their teaching and students’ learning.
The physics department is in receipt of a very small budget from the school in the current year. Department grants to the school in 2003 regarding implementation of the revised science syllabus have yet to be fully spent. It is recommended that, having identified priorities, this grant be fully spent in the near future.
Students have participated in many extra-curricular and out-of-school activities. In particular, the school has achieved outstanding success in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. For example, in the past five years the school has won the Young Scientist of the Year award, the Young Scientist Runner-Up and the best group each on two occasions. The school has also gained outstanding successes in international science competitions, for example winning the European Young Scientist Contest last year. The commitment of the whole school community in this regard is highly commended.
Senior management is committed to providing opportunities for collaborative subject planning. Formal ‘subject group’ meetings are convened normally on two occasions in the year with additional meetings convened on request. The services of the School Development Planning Initiative have been employed in this regard.
A good physics plan is in place. This plan addresses many areas including laboratory health and safety, support for physics, uptake of physics, physics students with additional needs, resources and assessment practices. In addition, it includes long-term planning for physics classes, a draft physics policy document and comprehensive class plans for the classes visited during the evaluation. The work and commitment of the physics department is highly commended in this regard. A school science plan is in its early stages of development and it is recommended that this plan be progressed, incorporating the physics plan and including areas such as continuous professional development, sharing of best practice and future priorities for the science department.
A post of responsibility has been assigned as junior science practicals coordinator. Responsibilities include the development of the junior science laboratories, the development of an integrated common practical syllabus for junior science, the provision and maintenance of equipment for this syllabus and to ensure that the required safety equipment is available. The school does not have a science coordinator, and consideration should be given to creating the position of a coordinator on a voluntary annual rotation basis. This would help to streamline the planning of Science in the school and help to further the development the science plan. In addition, this position may help to focus the developmental priorities of Science at all levels.
Preparation and planning for lessons observed was very good, with the well planned content and delivery of lessons clearly in evidence in the course of the evaluation. Practical equipment, ICT and teaching resources were ready in advance. This is commended
Physics concepts were explained with clarity. This enhanced student learning and led to successful learning outcomes. Students were, in the main, motivated and genuinely interested in the lesson content. A very good atmosphere prevailed in all lessons visited. A good rapport was present; students were frequently affirmed in their work and responded positively.
There was a very wide range of student abilities in classes visited. Students were well challenged to reach their potential. However, levels of participation varied considerably. Therefore, it is recommended that consideration be given to the implementation of further differentiated practices in lessons. For example, students who clearly will not be attempting higher level in the ‘mock’ examinations may be better engaged working on an ordinary level assignment. School management may wish to consider whole-staff in-service on differentiation in teaching. Reference should be made the website of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS), slss.ie.
Revision, in preparation for the forthcoming ‘mock’ examinations, formed part of some lessons. Students were given appropriate advice regarding the examinations. For example, graphs and graph drawing were revised. There was clear emphasis on a ‘best fit’ line, its slope and its importance in subsequent calculations.
Mathematical concepts were clearly explained with good use being made of the whiteboard and data-projector. When simple harmonic motion was introduced, equations were clearly explained and the concepts were consolidated with the aid of an appropriate simulation. These methodologies are highly commended.
Practical work formed part of some lessons. A previous investigation was discussed and a future investigation was planned. A demonstration of the concept of resonance was carried out and a lively discussion followed. Students were well prepared for the ‘hands-on’ practical lesson planned for later in the week. However, it would have benefited many students to have the opportunity to consolidate this work. Therefore, it is recommended that an appropriate worksheet be prepared and distributed to students. This is particularly appropriate when mathematical concepts are involved as was the case in this instance.
Questioning was used effectively. Questions were probing and sufficiently challenging and had the effect of consolidating student learning and building on students’ knowledge and understanding. However, it is important that efforts are to enable all students to interact more fully in some lessons.
Students were generally very confident at answering questions on their work and many demonstrated good problem solving skills in the course of the evaluation.
School management is commended for its comprehensive analysis of state examination results and presentation of these results to staff. Staff are invited to participate in this review and analysis. In relation to the uptake of higher level for junior science and senior physics, students should be further encouraged to choose the highest level possible in the state examinations. Differentiated teaching practices and further emphasis on revision would both encourage and support students with additional needs.
Class assessments take place in December and formal examinations take place in May for non-examination classes. Reports are sent to parents twice per year. Third and sixth-year students take ‘mock’ examinations generally in February and results are sent home afterwards. Some of these examinations are corrected externally while others are corrected by subject teachers.
Contact with parents is ongoing. A parent-teacher meeting is held for each year group. Emphasis is placed on communication through the school journal. Senior management and year heads are in regular communication as necessary. When parents are invited to evening meetings, however, attendance is mostly very low, and for this reason, the school is currently addressing this issue.
Good records of students’ attendance, achievement and performance are maintained. The assignments examined were generally completed to a good standard with frequent teacher monitoring and annotation.
It is commendable that students’ records of practical work are checked. Records of students’ practical work were maintained to a good standard by some students. However, the standard and quality of work recorded by many students needs improvement. Therefore, it is recommended that when the quality of this work is checked by teachers, students are given the responsibility for maintaining a high quality record of their work.
Informal links with the resource and learning support department are very good. English language teachers have provided excellent support to students with English as an additional language. These students are encouraged to use a dictionary in physics lessons when necessary. This is commended
It is the policy of the physics department to provide an encouraging and supportive environment for students. Regular tests define the average mark at Christmas. It is commendable that the quality of practical records maintained by students is included in this assessment. The summer test results in fifth year are calculated as the average of the summer and Christmas results.
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 teacher of Physics, together with the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board welcomes the content of this report. It believes that the report represents a true and fair view of the work undertaken in the school. The Board particularly welcomes the comments on the achievements of our students at the BT Young Scientist and Technology exhibition.
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 intends to expedite the completion of the review of the safety statement, involving the science teachers, as per the recommendations in the report.