An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Mathematics
Bandon Grammar School
Bandon, County Cork
Roll number: 62060R
Date of inspection: 9th October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Mathematics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Bandon Grammar School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics 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 co-ordinator. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
The provision for Mathematics is good. Classes are timetabled concurrently for each year group. Students are assigned to mixed-ability classes in first year and follow an agreed common course for one year. At the beginning of second year, classes are set on the basis of how the students have performed during first year. In addition, an extra class group is created in second, third, fifth and sixth year to allow for the creation of smaller groups. This practice of setting on the basis of ability, after first year, is seen within the school as the optimal way of catering for the wide range of abilities within the student cohort and of encouraging students to follow the highest level possible for as long as possible. It is recommended that this structure be reviewed each year to ensure that it continues to be the most appropriate model to cater for the students’ needs within the school.
As first-year classes are timetabled concurrently, this allows for flexibility within the mixed-ability model. Students are commonly assessed at Christmas in first year and, following a review of students’ progress, it is reported that in previous years classes have been reorganised. On one occasion this was done to cater for a group of particularly able students and at another time a group was created to work at a suitably slower pace. This flexibility of approach in response to the observed needs of the students is good practice.
In the interests of maintaining high levels of continuity, the beneficial practice of teachers remaining with the same class groups from second year to third year and from fifth year to sixth year, where possible, was noted. There is full rotation within levels in the junior cycle and at senior cycle, a second teacher is now teaching the subject at the higher level. It is praiseworthy that in planning for future years it is envisaged that more members of the mathematics team will teach the subject to higher level.
The timetabling provision for Mathematics is good. All junior cycle classes have five periods of forty minutes’ duration each week. Senior cycle classes have six periods each week. The fifth-year higher-level classes are allocated a seventh period each week. The Transition Year (TY) classes have three periods of Mathematics each week. In addition to this, classes are generally spread evenly throughout the school day and the school week.
The school facilitates those students who wish to study Applied Mathematics at Leaving Certificate level. Prior to this year Applied Mathematics has been taught in the school outside of timetabled hours as an extra subject for students. In the current year it is accommodated within the timetable for fifth-year students. It is also planned to teach a module of the subject to the TY classes later this year and in future years. This approach should encourage the uptake of the subject.
Classrooms are teacher based and to date three mathematics rooms have been equipped with interactive whiteboards. It is planned to extend this provision in the coming year. Formal and informal training by a member of the mathematics team will be provided on their use. This sharing of expertise should enhance collaboration and pooling of created resources within the team. In some instances teachers have already integrated the use of information and communication technology (ICT) into their teaching.
While there is no specific budget for Mathematics, all reasonable requests for purchase of resources are granted. The team has access to laptops and data projectors and a well-equipped computer room with mathematics software. The classrooms have overhead projectors, overhead calculators, video recorders, whiteboard drawing equipment, books and charts.
Teachers’ attendance at continuous professional development (CPD) courses is facilitated and it is reported that in the past the Board of Management of the school has supported teachers involved in further study.
The school awards a special prize in “mathematical studies” for fifth-year and sixth-year students during their annual prize-giving ceremony. Further, student involvement in a range of co-curricular activities pertaining to Mathematics is promoted within the school. These activities include the Irish Junior Mathematics competition, the Team Maths competition, the Prism competition and Maths week activities. This good practice allows students to have an interest in Mathematics outside of the classroom, raises the profile of the subject within the school, gives students the opportunity to enjoy Mathematics and apply it to problem solving in a new and non-formal way. All those involved in these activities are commended.
Students who find Mathematics particularly challenging are identified through a pre-entry assessment, contact with primary schools, discussion with parents and teacher monitoring during first year. The school responds to the needs of these students in a number of ways. In some instances students are withdrawn from lessons other than maths lessons, for one-to-one or small-group tuition. The current first-year classes have in-class support provided during some lessons. The extra class in other years, apart from TY, also contributes to the support of students by creating smaller class groups. Parents of students in receipt of education support receive a special report on the progress of their child.
It is noted that discussion and review of uptake rates, as well as results, are conducted within the school. This is good practice and should be used as a regular and natural part of the planning activities of the mathematics department. The results of this analysis are shared with all those involved in the school. An examination of students’ performance in the State examinations in recent years indicates that the uptake and achievement rates at higher level are good at both Junior and Leaving Certificate level.
An experienced member of the mathematics team acts as subject co-ordinator on a voluntary basis and this is positive. However, it is recommended that this arrangement be reviewed by the team and possibly altered so that the role of co-ordinator is rotated within the mathematics department on an annual basis. This will serve to ensure that a wide leadership skills base develops within the department.
Management facilitates four formal mathematics meetings per year as part of the school development planning process. The teachers of each year group also meet a number of times during the course of the year. The co-ordinator attends all of these meetings and records have been kept in recent years of topics discussed and decisions taken. Many other informal meetings take place on a needs basis. There is a strong sense of collaboration, co-operation, openness and collegiality within the team.
A written plan for Mathematics has been prepared. This contains an outline programme of work for each year group, by topic, with recommendations on the amount of time to be spent teaching each topic. During the visit, clear views on the aims and objectives of mathematics education in Bandon Grammar School were voiced by individual members of the team. It is recommended that these be discussed by the team and included in the plan. The plan might be further enhanced by including other relevant material. This could include a record of all the resources available for the teaching of Mathematics, planning for numeracy support, planning for students whose first language is not English, a list of CPD events attended and a statement of an agreed policy on copybooks and students’ work.
There is a Transition Year plan for the school. The plan contains a good balance between topics that consolidate the prior learning of students, some elements from the Leaving Certificate programme and other topics. A positive aspect of the plan is an emphasis on cross-curricular aspects of mathematics and on students’ project work.
All teachers made individual planning materials available for inspection. The department plan had been tailored into appropriate monthly, weekly and in some cases daily work to be covered by class groups. This good practice allowed for individual flexibility to respond to the needs of students while still maintaining the coverage required by the overall plan. Teachers also made available examples of worksheets, acetates and other resources used in the teaching of the subject.
Senior cycle higher-level students do not have a prescribed textbook. A comprehensive set of notes, examples and exercises has been built up and is used in conjunction with the classroom teaching. Currently these are being further updated and developed in electronic format. This work reflects well on the dedication and work of those involved.
Teaching observed was of a high standard. In the classes visited, lessons were well structured and purposeful and preparation for teaching was evident. Instruction began with a clear outline of the lesson content, good use was made of time and the lessons progressed at a challenging pace appropriate to student’s abilities. It was evident that teachers had high expectations of the students and the students responded accordingly. Topics such as projectiles, integration, geometry and area featured in the lessons observed. A variety of methodologies was used to engage students and stimulate their interest.
In general, lessons began with the teacher correcting homework from the previous day in class. This was dealt with quickly and effectively. Some questions which caused difficulty were dealt with by writing corrected versions on the board. The teachers also identified students who were later helped individually. Teachers were aware of and attentive to the needs of individual students and devoted class time to working with students who were experiencing difficulty. This ensured that students were able to deal with problems but valuable teaching time was not eroded and time during the lesson was used effectively
The main exchanges between teachers and students took the form of answers to questions posed by the teacher to named students or to the class group. A good range of questioning strategies was used. Students were encouraged to ask questions and did so, reflecting their engagement with learning in the lessons. There was an emphasis on problem analysis and problem solving and there were good examples of teachers posing more challenging questions to encourage students to engage with new material and to create links to previous learning at appropriate times in the lessons. The use of such questioning to appropriately challenge students, assist them in developing their skills in the area of problem analysis, mathematical thinking and mathematical communication is good.
Teachers were affirming of the efforts of their students. Classroom management was effective and discipline was sensitively maintained. There was a sense of mutual respect between teachers and students, creating an atmosphere that was conducive to learning.
In interactions with the inspector, the students were able to use mathematical terminology appropriately, display clear mathematical knowledge and could make connections to previously learned topics. They demonstrated knowledge and understanding of the concepts they had learned and were confidently able to relate them to the analysis of questions posed. An examination of students’ written work also indicated a high standard of learning.
Some examples of good practice noted in mathematics teaching included: the clear outline of the aim of the lesson at the beginning of lessons, the use of a range of methodologies to achieve this aim, the integration of ICT into lessons, the use of concrete materials, pair-work and investigations. Teachers had resources and equipment ready for students’ use, they affirmed students’ efforts, created links to other topics and subjects and emphasised problem analysis and problem solving.
The classrooms in Bandon Grammar School are teacher based. The resources available in the rooms for use in the teaching of Mathematics included a television and DVD player, whiteboard and whiteboard drawing instruments and overhead projector. As stated previously, some rooms have been, and others will be, equipped with an interactive whiteboard.
The classrooms walls had displays of students’ mathematical work, projects and mathematical posters. The creation of a strong visually mathematical environment within the classrooms helps to create an atmosphere conducive to the teaching and learning of the subject.
An agreed school homework policy, seen as particularly important in the context of Mathematics, is implemented by the team. Appropriate homework was assigned in all lessons, thus providing students with an opportunity to develop and consolidate mathematical concepts engaged with during the lesson. Students’ work was monitored by the teachers and in many cases the good practice of using positive comment-based feedback was noted. Students keep separate homework, class work and notes copybooks. An examination of a sample of these copybooks showed that they were well maintained and work was well presented.
Assessment is carried out on an ongoing basis through monitoring of class work, questioning in class and a written examination following the completion of each topic. Formal assessment of students not taking state examinations takes place at Christmas and at the end of the school year. Examination years have a Christmas test and sit their ‘mock’ exams during the second term.
The school maintains good communication with parents. Two school reports are issued for each student during the year. Additionally the student diary is used as a means of communication between the school and home and vice-versa. Each year group has a parent-teacher meeting once during the school year. Outside of these, meetings with parents are arranged as necessary or as requested.
There is some evidence of co-ordination associated with the testing of students. All first-year students complete the same end-of-term and end-of-year tests. Common examinations enable comparisons to be made across the whole year group. They can also serve a useful purpose in informing students’ choice, or in providing advice to students in relation to levels. It is also reported that some common questions are used within levels in other years.
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:
Published February 2009