An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Physics
Loreto High School, Beaufort
Grange Road, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14
Roll number: 60340N
Date of inspection: 26 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Physics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto High School, Beaufort, conducted as part of a whole-school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Physics 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 teachers.
Loreto High School offers Science as a core subject. The five science class groups are of mixed ability. Continuity of teaching and learning is maintained in that class groups generally retain the same teacher throughout junior cycle.
Science is also a core subject in Transition Year (TY) with Physics, Chemistry and Biology all forming part of the curriculum. There is very good science provision at senior cycle with Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered each year. Students are well supported in making an informed choice with a parents’ information evening, input from the guidance counsellor and specialist input from the science teachers. Numbers of students choosing Physics are small but have been generally consistent over recent years.
Time allocation to Science at junior cycle and the range of science subjects at senior cycle is satisfactory with one double and two single class periods in each year of junior cycle, two double class periods in TY and one single and two double periods at senior cycle. Teachers are well deployed and distribution of class periods across the week is good.
There are six teachers in the science department in the school. Teachers are well supported in attending in-service courses and in following relevant continuous professional development (CPD) courses. It is recommended that teachers further pursue courses in information and communications technology (ICT) and subject relevant in-service for Science in TY and Physics at senior cycle. Reference should be made to the website of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS), (www.slss.ie). Membership of a professional organisation is supported by the school.
Four well-equipped laboratories are in operation in the school. Laboratories are well maintained with equipment stored in an orderly and safe manner. Three of the laboratories have preparation and storage rooms. In addition, the laboratories are enhanced with many relevant models, posters and charts, and students’ work is also on display.
The school has a current health and safety policy in place and relevant consultation was carried out with the science department in drawing it up and at review stages. There are generally good health and safety practices in the science laboratories. Safety equipment was in evidence. Laboratory rules are signed by each student. There are some good practices already in place for chemical storage. However, it is recommended that an upgrade of chemical storage practice and facilities be implemented in line with best practice and Department guidelines.
Good ICT facilities have been provided in three of the four science laboratories. These laboratories have been provided with laptop computers and data-projectors and are networked to the school’s internet facilities. This is commended. It is recommended that ICT facilities be provided in the fourth laboratory.
Students are encouraged to partake in a number of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities including participation in the BT Young Scientists’ Competition, the Biology Olympiad, science quizzes and Science Week events. Science activities and events are promoted and students’ awareness of such activities is enhanced by means of a science notice board. This is commended.
Formal science department planning meetings are convened on three occasions each year. These meetings are minuted and evidence provided in the course of the evaluation confirms that many relevant issues relating to the science department are discussed at these meetings. The science team also meets informally at least once a month. Coordination of Science is attached to an assistant principal post of responsibility. Duties pertaining to this post are clearly listed and agreed and include overall responsibility for the science department and the ordering of chemicals and equipment. These coordination duties are carried out effectively. It is suggested, however, that the possibility of rotating the role of co-ordinator be considered in the context of subject department planning, in the interests of affording all members of the teaching team the opportunity to extend their professional experience.
An agreed common science plan was made available in the course of the evaluation. Course content is linked to syllabus learning outcomes. This is very good practice. However, this plan should be further developed to make the course content section independent of any textbook used. While the plan addresses some key aspects of science provision, it should be further broadened to include areas such as appropriate teaching methodologies for each section of the course and sharing of best practice. A good physics plan is in place addressing many key aspects of teaching and learning. However, it is recommended that this plan be further updated in line with the science plan. In addition, TY planning should keep the innovative, unique nature of TY and its curriculum as its focus. The cross-subject approach is commendable. However, it is recommended that the TY science curriculum be revised with a view towards reducing the content of Leaving Certificate material and introducing further applied aspects of Science, with further emphasis on research skills. It is important that Science in TY be a unique and innovative experience in line with Department guidelines.
There was very effective planning in evidence in advance of lessons observed. Practical and ICT equipment were set up and ready to use. Lesson content was well planned which led to successful learning outcomes as evidenced during the evaluation.
Lesson objectives were shared with students at the outset of most lessons. It is recommended that this good practice be extended across all lessons. There was a clear structure to all lessons. In many cases student learning was incrementally built up and reinforced continuously. Lessons observed concluded with a good plenary session. This is commended as it reinforces learning.
Students were motivated to learn throughout lessons observed. There was a very good atmosphere for learning with a positive classroom rapport. Individual and group support was given as necessary and students tackled the assigned tasks with confidence and enthusiasm. Affirmation of students was evident in all lessons and this consolidated the positive atmosphere and led to high levels of participation. Teachers are commended in this regard.
Methodologies were generally varied and led to effective student learning. In one lesson observed, the board was used to focus student learning and to progressively build up a diagram of the human respiratory system. Students repeated this exercise in their copybooks as a classroom assignment. A handout was distributed to summarise the function of each part of the respiratory system. To further consolidate this thematic learning experience, students carried out an investigation on the effect of exercise on breathing. This sequential build up of a new learning experience at an appropriate pace is highly commended. It is recommended that this good practice be extended across lessons.
ICT was used in an innovative way in some lessons. For example, students were set the task of investigating the activity of sources of radiation and to investigate the ionising and penetrating ability of alpha, beta and gamma radiation using a software package. This simulated investigation was appropriate to this particular section of the syllabus and was supported by a good worksheet. It is also important that such activities be supported by appropriate discussion and demonstration of relevant apparatus, for example, in this case, the Geiger-Muller tube. It is recommended that the good practice of using appropriate ICT in lessons be extended across science and physics lessons.
Practical investigations formed the core of some lessons visited. Students carried out an investigation on the measurement of the specific heat capacity of copper using the method of mixtures. Whole-class discussion in advance was very good, with a clear emphasis on experimental errors, mathematical calculations and on best health and safety practices. Students carried out the assigned task in small groups with care and diligence. This task was well organised and students worked in a collaborative way to reach the desired learning outcomes. At the lesson conclusion, clear guidance was given on answering appropriate examination questions before an assignment was set. This very good practice is commended. On another occasion, students were investigating their Coursework B assignment in Biology. Some advance research had been carried out and recorded. Self-directed learning and independence from teacher support were in evidence.
There was effective use of questioning in all lessons observed. Questioning was used as an ongoing learning strategy. Interest was heightened in many instances by the use of probing questions. Students exhibited good confidence in answering questions on their work during the lessons observed and student outcomes in terms of skills and knowledge as observed were very good.
Science and Physics were made relevant to everyday life in many lessons. For example, lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis were discussed in a lesson on the respiratory system. However, opportunities presented themselves in other lessons to link lesson content to everyday applications which were not availed of. It is recommended that the practice of making Science and Physics relevant to everyday life be extended, where possible.
Academic student achievement is excellent. The uptake of higher-level science and physics and the proportion of students receiving a good grade in these subjects are very high and have remained consistently high over recent years.
Teachers maintain very good records of student assessments and attendance. Third and sixth year classes sit pre-examinations in February. These examinations are corrected externally. Formal examinations take place at Christmas and summer for all other class groups. In addition an Easter class assessment takes place.
A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group. Reports are sent to parents on three occasions each year. Further communication with parents takes place through the school homework journal, open evenings and information nights.
There is a school assessment policy and homework policy in place. In addition, the science department has developed its own homework policy. There is clear emphasis on regular homework, class testing and revision. This is highly commended.
Students with additional needs are well supported with close liaison between science teachers, parents, school management, the learning support and guidance departments. Extra classes may be provided as necessary.
Practical notebooks examined in the course of the evaluation were generally of a high standard. The quality of teacher comment and annotation was high overall. In an effort to further improve the quality of students’ written practical records, it is recommended that notebooks are followed up on to ensure that students take full cognisance of teachers’ annotation.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good science provision with Science offered as a core subject at junior cycle and in TY and Physics, Chemistry and Biology are offered at senior cycle.
· Students are well supported in making an informed subject choice for senior cycle.
· Very good science planning is in place with regular formal and informal planning meetings scheduled on a regular basis.
· Students were motivated to learn throughout lessons observed. There was a very good atmosphere for learning with a positive classroom rapport.
· Affirmation of students was evident in all lessons and this consolidated the positive atmosphere and led to high levels of participation.
· Teachers maintain very good records of student assessments and attendance.
· Practical notebooks examined in the course of the evaluation were generally of a high standard.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Teachers should further pursue courses in ICT and subject relevant in-service. ICT facilities should be further enhanced in the science department.
· Chemical storage practices and facilities should be improved in line with best practice and Department guidelines.
· A broad based science plan should be developed.
· The TY science curriculum in the school should be revised with a view towards reducing the content of Leaving Certificate material and introducing further applied aspects of Science, with further emphasis on research skills.
· The practice of making Science and Physics relevant to everyday life in lessons should be extended.
· Practical notebooks should be followed up to ensure that students take full cognisance of teachers’ annotation.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Science and Physics, 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 2008