An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Mathematics
Terence MacSwiney Community College
Roll number: 71123Q
Date of inspection: 21-22 January 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Mathematics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Terence MacSwiney Community College. 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 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 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.
Terence MacSwiney Community College, which is under the auspices of the City of Cork Vocational Education Committee, was built on an eleven-acre site on Hollyhill, Knocknaheeney and opened to the first students in the spring of 1979. The school has an open enrolment policy and provides mathematics education to boys and girls in a caring and inclusive environment. The school currently offers the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the established Leaving Certificate (LC) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme.
The provision for Mathematics in the timetable is good. There are three class groups in each year up to Junior Certificate level. Apart from one small class in each year group, all other junior cycle classes have five periods of Mathematics per week. Mathematics classes are concurrent in third year. Provision in senior cycle is also good. There are six periods per week in fifth year and five in sixth year. The LCA programme has three periods of Mathematical Applications in both its first and second years. Teachers are assigned to classes by management and generally continue with classes from first to third year and from fifth to sixth year.
Due to reported timetabling constraints, some junior cycle and LCA classes have either a double period or two single periods in one day. This is resulting in some junior cycle classes not having daily contact with the subject. It is therefore recommended that, where possible in future timetabling, a greater spread of mathematics lessons across the week is achieved, allowing students to access the maximum number of class-contact points with the subject in all cases.
Students who find Mathematics particularly challenging are identified through a pre-entry assessment and meetings with parents. The school also maintains close contact with the local primary schools and the School Completion Programme (SCP) personnel operating in these schools. Some students receive a further assessment after entry in first year and teachers observe and monitor progress during first year. Identified students are supported through the allocation of additional lesson time (at junior cycle), team teaching and the formation of a smaller class group in each year in junior cycle.
The learning support group receives intensive numeracy and literacy support in particular in first and second year. In first year they have mathematics lessons for three treble periods at the beginning of the day and in second year they have two treble periods. These classes are further supported through the use of team-teaching and in-class support. This practice of support is seen within the school as the optimal way of catering for the abilities within the student cohort. 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. The group has six periods of Mathematics in third year spread more evenly through the school day and the school week.
Two classes are timetabled concurrently in third year and also in fifth year. This is good practice as it allows students to change level and is an encouragement to remain at the highest level possible for as long as possible. It is reported that the school is in the process of putting extra tuition in place for students in second year to encourage them to follow the higher level syllabus. This is positive.
There are a range of resources within the school to enhance the learning experience of students. The school participated in a Department of Education and Science (DES) funded ‘laptops initiative’. This has resulted in a set of laptop computers with learning support software installed being available in the school library for student use. The school also has a newly refurbished computer room which can be used by classes. All classrooms are broadband enabled. The school has also acquired a large selection of learning support materials relevant to Mathematics. These include concrete materials, models, educational games and manipulatives.
Management is commended for supporting the continual professional development (CPD) of teachers by facilitating opportunities to attend inservice courses in Mathematics. Teachers have received training in whole-school approaches to numeracy presented by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS). Mathematics teachers have attended mathematics courses organised by the LCA support service, the JCSP support service and the Mathematics Support Service.
One first-year class is scheduled to participate in the upcoming ‘Maths is Fun’ week. During the week, parents are invited into the mathematics classroom and engage in a number of mathematical activities with the students. All the teachers involved are commended for their commitment to the students and to the subject.
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. In the current year the review resulted in the proposed extra provision at second year already mentioned.
There is currently a subject co-ordinator for Mathematics. The role of co-ordinator is attached to the duties of an assistant-principal post, as has been the practice in the school. It is suggested that this system should be adjusted in Mathematics so that the subject co-ordinator’s role is adopted by different members of the team, on a rotational basis, each year. This approach will help in the development of wider leadership experience across the entire mathematics department. The role of the subject co-ordinator should be agreed and set down in the subject plan. There is a formal subject departmental meeting each term. Minutes are kept of formal meetings. Other informal meetings also occur on a regular basis.
The mathematics team have made commendable progress in planning. The department plan includes overall aims and objectives for mathematics education within the school, organisational details, outline weekly programmes of work for each year group and level, reference to a variety of methodologies, and a description of provision for students with special educational needs. This is in line with good practice and is commended. To build on this solid foundation, a review of programmes of work should see them expanded to include not only lists of topics, but also key skills and key terms for students to know and understand. The resources, including software packages currently in place to assist students in acquiring such key skills should be listed in the plan and ideally linked to relevant mathematical topics. In addition, with regard to the overall department plan, consideration should be given to reviewing the sequencing of topics as discussed during the inspection. The current plan should continue to be developed in order to link content and skills through a learning-goal oriented approach. A potentially useful resource for this work are the learning-targets statements for JCSP which are available at www.jcsp.ie. In addition, it is suggested that a teaching and learning focus should also be brought to bear as part of the subject-planning process. For example, areas such as cooperative learning and assessment for learning could continue to be explored through teachers’ involvement with the SLSS and JCSP support services. The integration of information and communication technology (ICT) should also be included within all year groupings’ plans to support the teaching and learning of the subject.
All teachers presented individual comprehensive planning documents that detail the topics to be studied and a timeframe for their completion. In addition, teachers had developed individual handouts and other supplementary materials and these were accessed and used during lessons visited. This is good practice.
In lessons observed, teachers’ presentation of work was clear and preparation for teaching was evident. Teaching was of a high standard. Examples of good practice in mathematics teaching observed in Terence MacSwiney Community College included reviewing previous learning prior to introducing a new topic, the highlighting of key mathematical terminology, the relating of learning to students’ experiences, the use of clear methods in arriving at solutions, the appropriate use of mathematical language by both teachers and students, ongoing review of concepts, and high levels of attention to individual students. Teachers also used group work, pair work and games to maintain interest and engage students.
The common method used in lessons saw the teacher demonstrating a technique and students repeating the method on similar type questions. Students were also involved in collecting real data for mathematical use during some lessons. Examples of this were: measuring a classroom, collecting data on distance and time and using real life travel information obtained from the internet. These additions, by the mathematics team, to the more traditional teaching style introduce students to a range of methodologies which help to increase confidence and self-esteem, encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning and support independent thinking. It is clear that the goal of the team is to broaden the range of teaching strategies used in lessons to best meet the needs of their student cohort. In this context the Mathematics: Junior Certificate Guidelines for Teachers outlines a range of methods such as practical work, discussion, group work, and quiz activities or investigative work that could be considered. The teaching and learning plans available on the Project Maths Development Team’s website www.projectmaths.ie as well as the sharing of experience within the team would also support this aim.
In general, textbooks, work sheets and, to a lesser extent, learning aids were the main resources used in lessons. There were some good examples observed of the use of prepared worksheets to enhance learning. Such good practice ensures that all students are encouraged to work to the best of their abilities and to engage with the learning activities in lessons.
Interaction between teacher and students generally took the form of brief answers by the students to closed questions from the teacher. Questioning focused mostly on finding the next steps in the solution of a problem. There were some good examples where teachers built on their students’ answers, exploited the learning potential of incorrect answers and encouraged them to explain and justify their methods and thinking. This is good practice as it helps students to consolidate their learning and maintain student engagement with the topic. It is recommended, therefore, that a varied range of questioning strategies be employed in all lessons.
Students generally demonstrated a clear understanding of concepts engaged with during the lessons in interactions with the inspector. They were able to answer questions posed to them in a confident manner and suggested solutions to questions posed to them.
Classroom management was effective and appropriate, and students were kept on task. Students were attentive to their work. There was generally a sense of mutual respect between teachers and students, creating an atmosphere that was conducive to learning.
The teaching team utilises workbooks, posters and resources produced by the JCSP support service, as well as some resources that they have created and developed themselves. A range of posters were displayed to create a visually stimulating mathematical environment in classrooms. It is recommended that student-generated posters and displays of students’ work would also be displayed to further enhance these displays.
The mathematics-department plan includes a homework policy for the subject. This is positive and recognises that homework plays an important role in the learning process. Homework was assigned in the majority of lessons observed. In general, homework was appropriate in terms of the quantity and relevance to the work done during the lesson. In some instances students’ work was stored in folders which were retained in school. In these instances, the suggestions made during the inspection in respect of homework and assessment should be implemented.
Teachers record student attendance, performance in assessments and, on occasion, daily records of work undertaken or homework assigned are recorded. This is an indication that teachers are cognisant of the implications of student attendance and absence on their learning and progress.
It is reported that some common assessment material is used with first-year classes. This is good practice. It is recommended that the practice of having common assessments or appropriate common questions within levels would be introduced with other year groups where practicable. Such a process would allow for ease of comparison of students’ performances within levels with the rest of their year group and assist teachers in giving advice to students and parents as to the most appropriate examination level to take.
Information regarding students’ improvement is facilitated via an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year group and the student journal. It is noted that the school operates an open-door policy, thus facilitating ongoing communication with parents. Parents also receive reports from the school on their children’s progress twice per year. One report is issued for all classes after assessments at Christmas. Non State-examination classes have further formal assessments at the end of the school year. The remaining students sit their ‘mock’ examinations late in the second term. This is good practice as it affords students a realistic time span to complete their courses.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of Mathematics and the principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, October 2009