An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Mathematics
Assumption Secondary School
Walkinstown, Dublin 12
Roll number: 60851P
Date of inspection: 22 April 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Mathematics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Assumption Secondary 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 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.
Timetabling provision for Mathematics in Assumption Secondary School is very good. All junior cycle classes are provided with five periods of Mathematics per week. Upon completion of junior cycle, students have the option of entering transition year (TY) or can go directly into fifth year.† There are three periods of Mathematics per week in TY and six periods per week for the remainder of senior cycle. All periods are forty minutes long.
Mathematics classes are mixed ability in first year and are banded in second and third year. The composition of the bands is determined by the performance of the students in a series of common assessments provided throughout first year. There is one mixed-ability class in TY and mathematics classes are banded in fifth and sixth year. Mathematics classes are timetabled concurrently within the bands in each year. This is very good practice as this facilitates movement between levels and enables students to follow the highest level possible for as long as possible.
Procedures for identifying and supporting students with special educational needs or in need of learning support are very good. All incoming students sit appropriate standardised tests and once they have settled into the school they are provided with a competency test in Mathematics. The guidance counsellor visits the feeder primary schools to establish if the outcomes of the assessments are in line with expectations and to complete the profiles of identified students. The mathematics teachers then meet with the learning-support team and the schoolís guidance counsellor to discuss the outcomes of the assessments and to determine the most appropriate model of support to be implemented.
Additional support in Mathematics is primarily provided by in-class co-operative support and through team teaching. This support model was observed in a number of the classes visited during the inspection and it was evident that interventions in place were appropriate to the needs of the students and contributed to effective lesson delivery and to the creation of a supportive learning environment. In a small number of cases additional support in Mathematics is provided during small-group withdrawal from mathematics classes. In such instances care is taken to ensure that the material addressed during withdrawal is in line with that being covered in the mainstream mathematics classes. In order to ensure that the special education provision meets the needs of all students with special educational needs, it is recommended that arrangements be made to identify and support students with exceptional abilities in Mathematics. In making these arrangements, the special educational needs team should refer to Exceptionally Able Students-Draft Guidelines for Teachers, which is available from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.
The mathematics department comprises seven teachers all of whom have an appropriate qualification in Mathematics. Mathematics teachers are assigned to classes by level and by rotation in junior cycle, but only one of the teachers currently takes higher-level classes in senior cycle. It is recommended that, in order to build capacity within the department, additional teachers be identified and assigned to higher-level Mathematics in senior cycle. Mathematics teachers retain the same class groups from second to third year and from fifth to sixth year. This is very good practice as it ensures continuity and facilitates long-term planning.
The mathematics department is very well resourced. Mathematics classes have ready access to the schoolís computer room and to mobile technologies such as data projectors and laptops. The members of the department have also developed a wide range of resources designed to facilitate activity-based learning and to reduce reliance on the textbook in lesson delivery.
Management actively supports and facilitates teacher attendance at relevant CPD courses. Members of the mathematics department have attended a large number of courses and a number of whole-school training programmes have also been provided. Materials presented at CPD courses were contained in some of the teachersí individual planning folders. Management promotes membership of professional bodies such as the Irish Mathematics Teachersí Association by defraying the cost of membership of such bodies.
Subject department planning in Mathematics is underway. There are three formal planning meetings each year. The minutes of these meetings are kept in the departmentís planning folder. A planning co-ordinator has not yet been appointed. There is ample evidence of collaborative planning, particularly in the design and delivery of the first-year mathematics programme. However, it is recommended that the departmentí planning structures be reviewed in order to formalise roles and responsibilities and to harness the expertise within the department. The review should result in the appointment of a co-ordinator and the development of a cohesive subject department plan.
A nascent subject department plan for Mathematics is in place and is in need of review and development. The existing plan contains agreed schemes of work, the arrangements of classes and the schoolís draft homework policy. It is recommended that, in reviewing the plan, the schemes of work be redrafted to specify the intended learning outcomes and appropriate modes of assessment. Planning templates already being employed by some members of the department should be used to inform the redrafting of the schemes of work.
A separate, comprehensive, plan for Mathematics in TY is in place. The programme outlined in the plan is appropriate to the aims and objectives of TY. The programme comprises a core of material designed to consolidate the studentsí earlier learning, and to develop their skills and their understanding of key concepts.† The core is supplemented by a number of modules designed to facilitate cross-curricular links, to encourage the students to apply their learning and to develop an appreciation of the role of Mathematics in everyday life. The plan also details a variety of innovative teaching strategies to be employed in delivering the programme. In order to ensure consistency in planning, it is advised that the TY plan be included in the overall planning review and that the schemes of work be amended to conform to the model agreed during the review.
Individual teacher planning is very good. In the most impressive cases, the teachers had produced extensive schemes of work and had produced a variety of resources to enhance teaching and learning. Planning for the inclusion of resources is also very good. Worksheets and other resources were effectively integrated into the lessons observed during the inspection and served to facilitate a range of teaching methods and to enhance the studentsí understanding of the material being covered.
The lessons observed during the inspection were well planned. The material covered was appropriate to the requirements of the syllabus. The lessons proceeded at a good pace, were inclusive of all the students and very good links were established with the studentsí prior learning. The sequencing of the material presented was, in most cases, very good and in almost all instances the lessonís objectives were discussed at the outset of the lesson and a short summary was presented prior to the end of the lesson. This is very good practice.
A range of teaching methods was in evidence during the inspection. In one instance, a lesson on basic trigonometry was greatly enhanced by the use of graduated worksheets prepared by the teacher. The students, working in small groups, engaged in estimating and measuring the size of angles and in agreeing the most appropriate terminology to describe the outcome of each activity. The worksheets facilitated independent and collaborative learning and also linked the material under investigation to other areas of the course. The teacher was free to circulate between the groups, supporting those students encountering difficulties and challenging those who found the material less demanding.
Team teaching was seen being used to very good effect in a lesson where the students were investigating basic concepts in statistics. Working in harmony, the teachers supported the students in conducting a number of impromptu surveys and in analysing and representing the data collected by the students. The teachers skilfully facilitated discussions on the outcomes of each survey and sought to use the outcomes to reinforce the studentsí understanding of the concepts under consideration. Resources prepared in advance of the lesson underpinned the achieving of the lessonís objectives and provided opportunities for independent and collaborative learning.
Student behaviour and engagement, in all of the lessons observed during the inspection, was very good. They carried out the tasks assigned to them diligently and responded to teacher questioning with enthusiasm. The teachers were affirming of the studentsí efforts and were skilful in ensuring that the lessonsí goals remained in focus while maintaining a warm and supportive atmosphere.
The quality of learning is good. The students answered confidently when questioned by the teachers and responded with assurance during their interactions with the inspector. The quality of studentsí class work and homework is of a very good standard. Analysis of student attainment in the state examinations provides further evidence of the high standards being achieved by the students in the school.
Practices in relation to ongoing assessment of studentsí work are very good. A draft homework policy is in place and is being implemented. Homework is regularly assigned and corrected. The studentsí homework copies are monitored appropriately and in most cases contain written feedback from the teachers. Teacher questioning in class, coupled with the use of worksheets, is also used very effectively in assessing student progress.
First-year students sit a number of common assessments throughout the year. The tests are differentiated to reflect the needs of individual students and the results are collated and are used to determine the composition of the bands that are formed at the end of the year. Formal examinations are held at Christmas and just prior to the summer holidays. The formal examinations adopt the structure and standard of the certificate examinations. This is very good practice. Students in examination classes sit mock examinations early in the second term and students in receipt of reasonable accommodation in the certificate examinations receive appropriate support in the mock examinations. Written reports are issued to parents following the formal and mock examinations.
Very good use is made of the teacher diary in recording student attainment and attendance. Roll call is taken at the beginning of each class and is recorded in the teachersí diaries. The teachersí diaries also contain comprehensive records of the performance of students in class and in formal tests.
Ongoing communication with parents occurs through the use of the student diary, telephone calls to the home and through the activities of the schoolís home-school-community liaison co-ordinator. Formal letters are also issued if the need arises. Each class group has one parent teacher meeting per year. The parents of students in examination classes, whose performance in class and formal tests gives cause for concern, are invited to individual meetings with a member of the schoolís management team. This timely and proactive approach is commended.
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 at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, December 2009