An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
New Ross Vocational College
New Ross, County Wexford
Roll number: 71660T
Date of inspection: 9 March 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN SCIENCE
This report has been written following a subject inspection in New Ross Vocational 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 students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teacher’s 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Science is offered to students as an optional subject. Prior to entry to the school, incoming first years make their subject choices, and in the current year, students may choose between Science and Geography. An information evening regarding subject choice for parents of incoming first years takes place in May. Students are allowed some flexibility to move between subject classes in the first few weeks of the school year. The average uptake of Science at junior cycle is sixty percent. Nevertheless, some students who have not chosen junior Science opt to choose Biology at senior cycle. In this context, it is recommended that measures are put in place to encourage greater uptake of Science at junior cycle.
In the current year, all junior cycle students follow the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). One mixed-ability class group for Science currently exists in first year, second year and third year. It is good that there is continuity of teaching of Science throughout junior cycle.
Biology is the only science subject offered for Leaving Certificate. One biology class group currently exists in fifth and sixth year. In addition, the school offers Horticulture as a Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) elective course. Students are well supported at senior cycle in making an informed choice with a parents’ information evening, input from the guidance service, specialist input from the science department and good support from school management.
Weekly time allocation to Science at junior cycle is one double and three single class periods. Biology at senior cycle is allocated two double class periods and one single class period per week. This time provision is in line with syllabus requirements and is satisfactory. The distribution of class periods across the week provides for regular contact with the subject.
Senior management supports attendance of science teachers at in-service courses and ongoing continuous professional development (CPD). Attendance and participation in junior Science, Biology and LCA science courses has been supported in recent years.
The school’s science laboratory is very well maintained with equipment stored in an orderly and safe manner. The laboratory has an adjacent preparation and storage room which is well stocked. In addition, the laboratory is enhanced with many relevant models, posters and charts and students’ work is also on display. Good information and communications technology (ICT) facilities have been provided in the laboratory. A laptop computer, data projector and access to broadband facilities are available. These facilities are well utilised in the delivery of science education.
The school’s health and safety policy dates to 1996 and is in need of immediate review. It is imperative that this matter receives the urgent attention of the board of management and the Vocational Education Committee (VEC). In addition, chemicals should be stored in line with Department guidelines, a ventilation facility should be incorporated into the chemical storage room, and the fire exit door from the laboratory preparation room should incorporate an opening mechanism on the interior in the interests of safety.
Co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are in the main confined to senior cycle students. It is recommended that the profile of Science at junior cycle be raised with science activities organised during national Science Week and with the provision of a science noticeboard in a prominent part of the school.
A very good science plan is in place. It is very praiseworthy that many of the recommendations from a previous science inspection report have been implemented. The provision for Science is clearly outlined with details on many areas, including; aims, objectives, effective methodologies, resources, health and safety and assessment procedures. The scheme of work for Science for each year group references each topic to the relevant chapter of the chosen textbook. It is recommended that the scheme be made textbook independent by cross references to the syllabus. In addition, the science plan should be developed to include action plans for the subject development over coming years. This may include monitoring the uptake of the subject and the further promotion of Science to students and parents. The JCSP allows for important aspects of Science to be taught to all students, even those who have not chosen the subject for the Junior Certificate. This possibility should be explored by the school and should form part of science planning. It is also recommended that the analysis of examination results forms part of the planning process.
Science is very effectively coordinated and coordination duties include updating the science plan, purchasing of resources, stock-taking and convening Science department meetings. Time is made available by school management for science teachers to meet during school planning days. The subject department is encouraged to maintain minutes of meetings and to relay a copy of the minutes to school management. Teachers meet informally on an ongoing basis and the commitment to the planning and organisation of Science is highly commended.
There was very effective individual planning in evidence in advance of lessons observed. Practical and ICT equipment and resources were set up and ready to use. Lesson content was well planned which led to successful learning outcomes, as evidenced during the evaluation.
A good atmosphere prevailed in all lessons evaluated. The quality of teaching was very good. Differentiated methodologies were used appropriately to support students across a wide range of abilities. Student-teacher and student-student relationships were in the main very good. Individual support was given to students who needed extra help. Interest in the lesson material was high with frequent references to everyday applications of the material presented. This increased the relevance of many of the more difficult concepts for students. Subject content was relayed with energy and enthusiasm and lesson pace and progression of student learning was very good. Students were frequently affirmed in their work and when answering questions. This led to greater levels of student participation and interest. Lesson structure was in the main good. To further consolidate the learning process, it is recommended that each lesson begins with shared learning objectives and ends with a plenary session.
Students generally tackled the assigned tasks with confidence and enthusiasm. The varied methodologies engaged the vast majority of students in effective learning. The board was used to highlight key ideas. However, it is recommended that the board is also used to collate student input in an effort to further enhance student ownership of the learning process. ICT was used effectively to support student learning. Short, clear teacher inputs ensured that this methodology worked very well. ICT was also used to consolidate the learning process with it being used to focus students on a particular assignment. This was very effective and is commended. Worksheets should be used to consolidate learning, where appropriate.
There was very good emphasis on adopting an investigative approach to learning and this was in evidence during all lessons evaluated. Students conducted practical investigations in a safe environment and worked in small discrete groups. Practical work formed part of each lesson visited. In one lesson, students investigated various circuits with the clear aim of learning how to use a voltmeter and an ammeter correctly. All groups successfully completed this task under teacher direction. In another lesson, students were carrying out a test for starch, following a good discussion on food types. A risk assessment was initially drawn up. This is very good practice. Small groups carried out the activity very successfully. In addition, demonstrations were used very effectively in lessons and ensured a high level of student interest.
Interest was heightened in many instances by the use of probing questions. Questioning was used as an ongoing learning and teaching strategy. Students exhibited good confidence in answering questions on their work during the lessons observed.
Students have, in the main, been successful at achieving grades commensurate with their abilities in the Junior Certificate examinations. The uptake of higher-level science has increased over recent years.
Assessment, examination, homework and record keeping procedures are clearly laid out in the science plan and these procedures are in line with overall school policies. Very good records of student assessments, progress and attendance are maintained. Students sit Christmas and summer examinations, while third and sixth year students sit pre-examinations in February. In addition, students are continually assessed on their ongoing class work.
There is good emphasis on homework, with most lessons beginning with checking of homework. Assignments were given to students at the conclusion of all lessons evaluated. Practical notebooks examined in the course of the evaluation were of variable standard. In an effort to further improve the quality of students’ written practical records, it is recommended that notebooks are further monitored to ensure that students take full cognisance of teachers’ annotation.
A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group, with an additional meeting organised for third and sixth year students. Reports are sent to parents on two occasions each year. Further communication with parents takes place as needed.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Science is offered to all junior cycle students. Biology is available to Leaving Certificate students with Horticulture offered as an elective course to LCA students.
· The school’s science laboratory is very well maintained with equipment stored in an orderly and safe manner.
· A very good and comprehensive science plan is in place. There was very effective individual planning in evidence in advance of lessons observed. Science is very effectively coordinated.
· The quality of teaching was very good. Differentiated methodologies were used appropriately to support students across a wide range of abilities.
· Subject content was relayed with energy and enthusiasm and lesson progression was very good. Students were frequently affirmed in their work and when answering questions.
· There was very good emphasis on adopting an investigative approach to learning and this was reflected in all lessons evaluated.
· There is good emphasis on homework, with most lessons beginning with checking of homework. Assignments were given to students at the conclusion of all lessons evaluated.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Measures should be put in place to encourage greater uptake of Science at junior cycle.
· The school’s health and safety policy dates to 1996 and is in need of immediate review.
· The scheme of work for Science should be made textbook independent by cross references to the syllabus.
· To further consolidate the learning process, it is recommended that each lesson begins with shared learning objectives and ends with a plenary session.
· Practical notebooks should be further monitored to ensure that students take full cognisance of teachers’ annotation.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science, together 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