An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

Department of Education and Science

 

 

Subject Inspection of Science and Chemistry

REPORT

 

Mayfield Community School

Mayfield, Cork

Roll number: 91400F

  

Date of inspection: 19 April 2007

Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

 

 

Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Chemistry

 

 

Subject inspection report

 

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mayfield Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Chemistry 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 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 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.

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Mayfield Community School is located on the north side of Cork city and was officially opened in 1975. It serves the local population, offering a broad range of programmes including Junior Certificate, the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), Transition Year (TY), Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA).

 

The school offers a taster system in first year where students study all subjects. This is commended as it facilitates students in making an informed subject choice for Junior Certificate. However, the school is currently in a state of transition with regard to its provision of Junior Certificate Science. At this time, all students have not been offered the opportunity to study Science in junior cycle. Currently it is a core subject for two class groups in first year and for one class group in second year, while Science in third year is a component of the option blocks, two class groups taking the subject. The current third-year students had varying degrees of provision in Science in first year, which has resulted in difficulties for completion of coursework A. The JCSP first-year group take a module of Science. During the course of the evaluation, it was stated that this was to provide the students with some exposure to Science. Science had been offered as an optional subject in previous years, but it is understood that management is now in the process of providing it as a core subject for Junior Certificate. This is certainly something that should be done immediately and the clearly stated intention of doing this by management is applauded. This would assist in preventing anomalies in science provision and would also counteract the difficulties encountered by students who study a Leaving Certificate science subject without having previously studied Science. The time allocation for the majority of students in Science is in line with syllabus guidelines. Measures should be taken to ensure that the time allocation is appropriate for all students in future timetabling.

 

There is a good range of science subjects available in senior cycle. The subjects available are Leaving Certificate Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Subject options in senior cycle are student driven. This is good practice. The schoolís TY programme is compulsory. Students study half-year modules of Biology, Chemistry and Physics. This is good practice as it enables students to make more informed subject choices at senior cycle.

 

There is good support for students in making both their junior cycle and senior cycle subject choices. The supports available to students include access to career guidance counselling and advice to students from their subject teachers. Parents are also involved in the decision-making process. Percentages of students choosing Physics and Chemistry have remained stable but low over recent years. To further encourage the uptake of science subjects in senior cycle, and to ensure that the subjects remain viable options in the school, it is recommended that the school examine the factors influencing studentsí choice of subjects. The results of this examination should inform future subject and curricular planning and support subject uptake among students in the sciences. Management could also investigate the inclusion of science elective modules in the Leaving Certificate Applied programme, especially in view of its acceptance as an entry requirement for some beauty therapy courses.

 

Classes are of mixed ability for optional subjects and are banded for the core subjects. The science teachers strive to ensure that students reach their potential, decisions being made regarding examination level in third year. The time allocation for the Leaving Certificate sciences is in line with the class-contact time recommended in the relevant syllabuses. In almost all instances, lessons for every class group both in junior and senior cycle are distributed evenly across the week. Generally, classes retain the same teacher from second through to third year in junior cycle. This is good practice. Management should strive to extend this to first year as it supports continuity of student learning. The school has learning-support teachers who collaborate with the science teachers as necessary. This is laudable. 

 

The science teachers and management deserve credit for their ongoing commitment to the provision of the best possible facilities for the teaching of sciences. This will result in three refurbished laboratories this summer. The well-stocked laboratories provide evidence of successful planning for resources. One storage and preparation area adjoins these rooms. Chemicals are stored according to Department of Education and Science guidelines and best safety practice. To enhance the good work that has been done in this regard, it is recommended that the chemicals be labelled to ensure continuing safe storage. While the large storage and preparation area is not specifically ventilated, the windows allow adequate aeration. A high level of safety equipment such as isolation switches for the gas and electricity supply, fire extinguishers safety blankets and safety glasses is available in the laboratory. Laboratory safety rules and hazard symbols are on display. The school has a health and safety statement, which was reviewed in 2006. The refurbishment of the laboratories will provide an opportunity for the science teachers to be involved in the next review. Posters and an array of plants in all laboratories, and displays of studentsí work in the biology laboratory, considerably contribute to a visually stimulating environment.

 

Management provides financial support for the maintenance of necessary materials and resources, and the purchase of equipment on a needs basis. This is good practice. The science department contain overhead projectors, a personal computer in each laboratory and one mobile PC with a data projector. Data logging equipment has been purchased for the teaching of Science, and the laboratories have internet access. Management is to be commended on the provision of these facilities. Teachers are applauded on the utilisation of their personal laptop computers to supplement the ICT equipment in the laboratories.

 

All students have weekly access to the laboratories. In addition collaboration between teachers ensures that extra access is made available as necessary. This is commended. While acknowledging the complexities of timetabling, management should endeavour to avoid clashes of double lessons where possible. This would ensure maximum laboratory access for all class groups.

 

Mayfield Community School has a fine resource in its science personnel. Management is praised on the commitment given to facilitate continuing professional development. Whole-staff training has included whole-school literacy, teaching strategies and ICT. All teachers have had the opportunity to attend Department of Education and Science in-career development in the sciences. One of the teachers was an associate trainer with the Chemistry Support Service and other teachers completed a Masters in Education (Science) or a Masters in Education in recent years. This dedication and enthusiasm of teachers is commended. It is significant that the school supports the teachers in their membership of the Irish Science Teachersí Association.

 

Students participate in a broad range of co-curricular and extracurricular science activities including fieldwork and the Junior Achievement Programme. The formation of a science club has facilitated students entering the Young Scientist and Technology competition over the last number of years. Students competed successfully in the ECO-ENESCO Young Scientist Awards in 2006. The result of this has been the introduction of the Green Schoolsí Programme in the school. The consequence of studentsí awareness of the environment has been the development of a science garden and the introduction of recycling in the school. This is commended. Involvement in ĎBridging the Gapí initiative has facilitated the development of close links with University College Cork (UCC) which are used effectively in enhancing studentsí experiences in the sciences. Close links have also been development with industry. Those involved are to be praised for their commitment to facilitating these educational and stimulating activities. The school has a generous benefactor which has allowed them to set up a charitable trust that enables the board of management to award scholarships to students. For example, students are supported in their participation in the UCC chemistry summer camp, the UCC summer science camp and the STEPS summer programme in the University of Limerick.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

School development planning in Mayfield Community School has extended into curricular and subject planning. A comprehensive subject-planning folder was presented. This was a well-considered plan and dealt appropriately with the issues relevant to the work of the science department and science students. Common programmes of work in the sciences have been devised. These identified topics and experimental work to be covered on a weekly basis for each year group. These might be extended in time to include the resources required. The good work of the science staff in developing and implementing this plan is commended. During the inspection it was stated that these programmes are adapted when necessary to meet the needs of a particular cohort. This is commended.

 

When devising the TY programmes in the sciences and in subsequent delivery, cognisance is taken of the fact that the student mix contains those who have higher-level Junior Certificate Science and those who have not had any previous exposure to Science. The TY programmes of work in each of Biology, Chemistry and Physics provide an opportunity to further develop the scientific literacy and science process skills of the students.  The biology programme is centred on visiting speakers from associations such as CURA and the Irish Heart Foundation. Studentsí everyday experiences are incorporated into the physics programme, which focuses on electricity and electronics and also includes a weekly study of the life of a relevant scientist. The study of Chemistry is anchored on the study of the elements and everyday life, with concrete examples being used to make the subject tangible. Practical work is an intrinsic component of each of the sciences. Science teachers and management are to be congratulated on their commitment in providing such a wide ranging experience in Science in TY, not least because it is very much in keeping with the TY philosophy of broad-based educational experience and the development of life skills.

 

Departmental planning is commendably supported and facilitated by the formal subject meetings, which are facilitated by management a number of times in the year. The co-ordinator convenes the formal meetings, which are minuted, and has a system in place for the replenishment of materials. At these meetings, needs are identified and common programmes of work are reviewed. Ongoing informal co-operation augments the formal communication.

 

At individual teacher level, lesson planning and preparation were seen to be very satisfactory. All teachers were teaching material fully relevant to the various syllabuses. Very good advance preparation was equally apparent by the manner in which all resources, equipment and handouts were ready for use during lessons. These supported the teaching and learning process.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

Laboratories, which are enhanced by plants, scientific models and a range of posters, provide a visually stimulating environment which clearly supports the teaching and learning of Science and Chemistry. Of particular merit is the display of studentsí practical activities, a practice that is encouraged as a means of acknowledging studentsí efforts. Good and, in many instances, very good student-teacher rapport was observed. Where required, discipline was maintained in a calm and sensitive manner, resulting in an atmosphere that was conducive to teaching and learning. The teachers sought to encourage learning at all times, and interacted frequently with their students during the course of the lessons. Overall, students were attentive, interested and participated actively in the learning process. Studentsí practical activities could be interspersed with short written and oral activities where necessary, in order to facilitate studentsí ongoing participation and engagement in learning. In some instances, the employment of humour further promoted a relaxed atmosphere.

 

Many elements of good practice were observed in the lessons visited. Lessons were well structured, content was almost always communicated clearly and the pace was good in the main. In one instance, props were employed successfully to clarify difficult concepts. Where the aims of the lessons were made clear at the outset, the scene was set for very effective student learning. The initial minutes of most lessons were employed to review what had been covered and learnt in a previous lesson. This is commended. A variety of teaching and learning methodologies was employed. These included teacher demonstration, student practical, class discussion, questioning and the use of ICT.

 

Good use was made of the board and ICT to outline the main learning points of lessons. Retaining all new or key terms on the board as lessons progresses would reinforce studentsí learning to a greater degree. ICT was successful in stimulating studentsí interest and participation, as visual images helped develop class discussion on the lesson content. Teachers are encouraged to expand the use of ICT in the teaching of Chemistry and Science. The utilisation of biological keys in the same lesson provided for further engagement in and consolidation of studentsí learning. Questioning was successfully utilised throughout some lessons to aid the introduction and subsequent broadening of a new topic, thus providing for the active engagement of students. It was also effective as a means of reviewing studentsí learning

 

Group work was employed effectively in practical and theory classes. During practical work, where student groups were small, all students were actively engaged and their skills were well developed. They worked collaboratively and the practical activities supported the development of their understanding and skills. However, groups composed of larger numbers resulted in some students in each group being uninvolved in the task at hand. It is recommended that for hands-on student practical activities, student groups should be small in order to facilitate active engagement and learning by all. In all lessons, as students performed the practical activities the teachers constantly circled the classroom, giving appropriate attention and support to individual needs. This is good practice. Due regard was given to safety procedures in almost all instances. However, care should be taken to ensure that all studentsí wear their safety glasses on all necessary occasions. The employment of a studentsí handout in one instance supported students effectively as they worked through the practical activity. In one case, students were asked to predict the results and support their prediction in advance of completing an investigation. This is good practice and should be utilised to a greater extent. It is not good practice to write up experiments in advance, as this does not support an investigative approach to learning Science. It is recommended that classroom discussion take place on completion of studentsí practical work in order to review progress and consolidate learning that has taken place. It also provides an opportunity to clarify any lack of understanding and correct any misconceptions that students may have.

 

There were some very nice examples of linking the lesson content to the everyday life experiences of the students, thus making the subject tangible and relevant. In a lesson devoted to chemical calculations, studentsí understanding was very effectively developed through initial review of basic mathematical concepts using concrete examples. This is excellent practice. In another lesson, everyday terms for specific animals, for example, fat pigs, were used in tandem with the correct scientific term.

 

At all times, studentsí contributions were encouraged and affirmed. Overall, there is a good quality of teaching and learning in Chemistry and Science in Mayfield Community School.

 

 

Assessment

 

Formal examinations are held at Christmas for all classes, and in the summer for the non-examination classes. State examination classes also have pre-examinations. There is some evidence of other tests being administered at the discretion of the teacher during class time. It is understood that some elements of common assessment are incorporated into the formal examinations in junior cycle, when appropriate. This is good practice and should be extended as it complements the common programme of work and provides for standardisation of studentsí learning across a year group.

 

A good commitment to oral questioning has already been referred to as part of the informal science-specific assessment policies in operation in the lessons observed. Written homework serves to reinforce studentsí learning within lessons. From examination of studentsí copies and files, the work given to the classes was found to be appropriate to ability levels. Written work was varied and included writing up practical work, word searches, and standard questions. In some instances, there was evidence of monitoring and annotation of homework. Consideration should be given to the increased employment of the desirable practice of teacher annotation, which reflects the principle of assessment for learning (AfL). Further information on AfL can be accessed at www.ncca.ie.

 

All students have laboratory notebooks or files in which they record their investigative work. The inclusion of practical work in a scheme of continuous assessment is commended, as it provides motivation for engagement by all students with the practical elements of the course and ensures regular monitoring of student laboratory notebooks. Such practice also reflects the assessment objectives of the Junior Certificate science syllabus, and provides a more accurate indicator of a studentís ability in the subject.

 

There was evidence of recording of attendance rates, behaviour and assessment in teachersí journals. This is good practice as it helps to build a profile of studentsí engagement, progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time.

 

The school has a policy of analysing state examination results. A good level of contact is maintained between the school and parents. In addition to twice-yearly reports, ongoing information regarding studentsí progress is also given to parents through the student journal, and annual parent-teacher meetings. Procedures for reporting positive attainment complement the procedures that are in place for those students experiencing difficulty. This is commended. During the course of the inspection it was stated as a result of a staff review of the schoolís assessment policy, it is planned that additional progress reports would be sent to parents at October midterm and at Easter. This ongoing communication with parents is good practice.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

  • The provision of Biology, Chemistry and Physics in senior cycle is commended. Management has stated that it is considering making Junior Certificate Science a core subject.
  • The science teachers and management deserve credit for their commitment to the provision of the best possible facilities for the teaching of the sciences, which will culminate in the building of new laboratories this summer. A high level of safety equipment is present in the laboratories.
  • The dedication of the science teachers in developing studentsí scientific literacy is evidenced by the extensive array of co-curricular and extracurricular activities on offer. Teachersí commitment to continuing professional development is highly commended.
  • Collaboration and co-operation among the science teachers, has facilitated the development of a common programme of work.
  • A good standard of teaching and learning was observed in Chemistry and Science. During practical work, where student groups were small, all students were actively engaged and their skills were well developed.
  • A good rapport exists between students and teachers, which helps foster an atmosphere that is conducive to studentsí learning.
  • The inclusion of practical work in the scheme of continuous assessment is commended.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

  • Management should ensure that a consistent approach is employed in the provision of Junior Certificate Science so that all students have equal access to the subject.
  • Chemicals should be labelled to ensure continuing safe storage.
  • For hands-on student experimental work, student practical groups should be small in order to facilitate active engagement and learning by all.
  • Classroom discussion should take place on completion of studentsí practical work in order to review progress and consolidate learning that has taken place.
  • Some elements of common assessment are incorporated into the formal examinations in junior cycle, when appropriate. This is good practice and should be extended.

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science and Chemistry and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.