An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Sancta Maria College
Louisburgh, County Mayo
Roll number: 64660F
Date of inspection: 3 December 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Sancta Maria College It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science 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 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report
School management supports Science through provision of resources including adequate curricular time. It supports the professional development of science teachers. The high status accorded by the school to Science is shown by the fact that it is a core subject taken by all students, including students with additional learning needs. The inclusion of students with additional learning needs is helped by liaison between the science and learning-support departments and by the science departmentís special needs policy.
Science is taken in base class groups that are of mixed ability. As some of the base classes are rather large the organisation and management of student practical work can be rather challenging. The science syllabus is based on student activity and emphasises the practical experience of science for each individual student. For this reason student practical work is central to Science. In order to reduce class sizes for Science the school should consider including Science in one of the junior cycle option groups while retaining its status as a core subject. By doing this studentsí access to practical work would be improved. Such an initiative might also have the effect of increasing the number of students taking Science at higher level in the Junior Certificate examination.
The schoolís Transition Year (TY) includes Science. Biology is offered in fifth and sixth year and Chemistry in sixth year. Physics and Chemistry is offered in fifth year. While the school is commended on the exposure given to science in TY, there is a need for a physics component to be included in the schoolís TY Science. The Institute of Physics (IOP) website includes some ideas and material that should be referred to when planning for Physics in TY. (http://ireland.iop.org/activity/education/TransitionYear_Physics/TY_Physics_Modules_ and_Project_Ideas/page_25873.html).
The time allocation for Science is adequate and includes a double lesson period each week for each class. As the school has only one laboratory timetabling of practical classes with four science teachers poses challenges. As a result there are some clashes each week that the teachers do their best to overcome. In fifth year where Biology is set against Physics and Chemistry in an option block, there is a particular problem. Teachers are challenged also in having the laboratory prepared for student practical work. Teachers work well together to overcome these problems and the school is at an advanced stage of planning for a new laboratory that will ameliorate the situation greatly.
The laboratory, although a little on the small side, is well organised and well maintained considering that it has been in use for twenty years. There are adequate storage facilities although there is a need for secure storage for some chemicals. The laboratory walls have attractive displays of scientific themes, including studentsí work, some of which was prepared in co-operation with the schoolís art department. This is a good example of cross-curricular co-operation.††
Good practice is shown in that there is an annual budget for the acquisition of laboratory resources and these are planned for as part of subject-department planning. One of the teachers acts as convener and this position rotates. The teachers have attended professional development courses.
ICT provision in the science laboratory is good. With the recent introduction of Physics and Chemistry there is a need to purchase some additional physics equipment and this is being addressed. In one of the areas of the school where students congregate there is a visual display unit that is used for student announcements, reminders, and other displays. On the day of the inspection science related material was being shown. The school and the science teachers are commended on this initiative.
Very good planning of work was observed. Class-planning documentation inspected was of a high quality and some included space for teachers to record the progress of classes for each year. This is very good practice. As the primary focus of subject planning is the achievement of good learning outcomes for students, teachers should consider including space in their planning documentation for comments on how well the teaching and learning of each topic went and what changes might be made for the following year.
The members of the science department engage in regular joint planning that is facilitated by the good relationships that exist among them. Formal recorded meetings are held.
The science departmentís plan gives a comprehensive background to the work of the department. Congratulations are merited for the overall quality of the plan and the commitment of the department. An area that could be addressed in future work is the use of studentsí assessment outcomes in planning for revision of material or for the following year.
It is suggested that as part of departmental planning the science teachers should examine the feasibility of sharing teachersí expertise, particularly in Physics and Biology. This could be achieved in a number of ways including joint planning and team-teaching. The sharing of some classes in Transition Year could provide a forum for initial work.
The three lessons observed were planned well and each had a clear structure. Where very good practice was seen the objectives of the lesson were given to the class at the outset and were left on the board for reference, along with the homework from that lesson. Good practice was also seen when the teacher summed up the main learning points at the end of the lesson.
The use by teachers of a variety of methodologies during lessons was observed. In one lesson these included students carrying out short and simple practical tasks that clearly linked in with the topic of the lesson, which was the structure and operation of the human breathing system. In this lesson very clear and effective links were made between the lesson topic and studentsí lives. In another lesson the periodic table and bonding were demonstrated though use of the schoolís sportsí hall and models as well as worksheets.
Good practice was seen where the board was used in the development of the lesson. The data projector was used effectively in one lesson. Studentsí work inspected showed evidence of checking by teachers. A commendable approach observed was where copies and notebooks were well ordered and feedback had been given to students that, as well as commenting on their work, also indicated what they could do to achieve better outcomes.†
In classes where satisfactory levels of student discipline were in evidence all students were attending to the lesson. Where student discipline was not maintained the learning of some students was hindered. When this occurs there is a need to apply a clear agreed code of classroom behaviour, supported where necessary by the schoolís discipline policy. The small number of students who showed challenging behaviour should have had that behaviour addressed in a positive but firm manner backed up by the use of set class routines and the development of studentsí listening and turn-taking skills.
In all lessons teachers positively affirmed studentsí work and answers and generally there was good rapport between teachers and students. Students participated eagerly in most lessons. As classes are of mixed ability it is recommended that assistance be given to those students whose literacy skills may be weak through having keyword lists for each topic area. The preparation of these could be carried out in conjunction with the learning-support department. ††
While student learning was taking place in all lessons observed, this was more evident where student discipline was consistently maintained.
While the school is in the process of reviewing its whole-school assessment policy, policy in regard to assessment of Science has been documented in the science department plan. A commendable feature of assessment in Science is that marks are awarded in formal school examinations for studentsí practical notebooks. The school science department has been innovative in second year where students perform an investigative study as part of their assessment and the marks for this are included as in the Junior Certificate examination. The school and the teachers involved are highly commended.
As well as formal school examinations teachers have regular class tests and mid-term assessments. Studentsí homework, attendance, and assessment records are systematically monitored by teachers. Since the beginning of this school year the progress of students who are considered to be underperforming is monitored by the class teachers in co-operation with the guidance counsellor. This is very good practice. The science department also has a homework policy that covers the setting and monitoring of homework and emphasises the need for effective feedback to students on the work that they carry out.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ School management is supportive of Science.
∑ ICT provision in the science laboratory is good.
∑ The science department plan gives a comprehensive background to the work of the department.
∑ The science department has a policy in regard to the assessment of Science.
∑ The science department has been innovative in second year where students perform an investigative study.
∑ Students were learning in all lessons observed.
∑ Teachers positively affirmed studentsí work and answers in all lessons.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ Class sizes for Science should be reduced, perhaps through including Science in one of the junior cycle option groups while retaining its status as a core subject.
∑ A physics component should be included in TY Science.
∑ Attention should be directed towards encouraging more students to take Science at higher level.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1:† Observations on the content of the inspection report
School Management was happy with the report which highlights the quality of teaching and learning within the classroom, the planning, the innovation and affirmation of teachers to the subject and students and the support given to this subject.
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 recommendations have been examined and the following are being addressed
Area 1; Class sizes to be reduced Ė This is not an issue with junior groups and therefore Science will remain a core subject and may be reviewed if the need arises.
Area 2; The physics component has been implemented post inspection and will form an integral part of the TY Science syllabus in the future
Area† 3;† Sancta Maria College will continue to promote the practical element of the course among students and encourage more students that have the ability to take higher level but lack the confidence to do so.† This is being addressed in consultation with Career Guidance, Staff and Parents.