An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Mathematics
Mercy Secondary School
Ballymahon, County Longford
Roll number: 63710M
Date of inspection: 3 February 2010
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Mathematics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mercy Secondary School. 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 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.
The mathematics department is very well organised and the mathematics teachers collaborate very effectively. The department comprises ten teachers, all of whom have an appropriate qualification in Mathematics. Each member of the department contributes positively to the operation of the department and plays an active role in subject department planning and in the design and delivery of the agreed common assessment procedures.
The mathematics department works very closely with the schoolís management. Following requests from the department this year, additional resources were deployed to enable the formation of a small mathematics class in fifth and sixth year. Funding is available to support teachers wishing to take courses leading to additional postgraduate qualifications and to enable teachers to purchase laptops for personal and school use. Teacher attendance at continuing professional development courses is fully supported by management and all of the mathematics teachers have attended the first two workshops offered as part of the national rollout of Project Maths.
The school has made great strides in developing its information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure. In addition to a fully-equipped computer room, most of the classrooms are equipped with computers and ceiling-mounted data projectors. The school is a participant in the broadband initiative sponsored by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Department of Education and Science, the National Centre for Technology in Education, HEAnet, and the Higher Education Authority. Under this initiative, the schoolís broadband connectivity will be greatly enhanced and additional ICT equipment will be deployed to assist in teaching and learning. The degree to which ICT is integrated in mathematics lessons can be significantly enhanced and strategies to increase the use of ICT in teaching and learning Mathematics should be developed and deployed.
The mathematics department is well resourced and requests for additional resources are readily acceded to by management. In order to prepare for the introduction of Project Maths in the coming academic year, it is recommended that an audit of the existing resources be conducted and that any resources needed to implement Project Maths in the school be identified. A schedule for their purchase should then be agreed with management.
Timetabling provision for Mathematics is good. First-year and second-year classes are provided with four classes of Mathematics per week while third years have five classes. There are six classes of Mathematics per week in fifth and sixth year. All mathematics classes are timetabled concurrently within each year group. This is very good practice as it enables simultaneous delivery of common programmes and common assessments, and allows students to follow the highest level possible for as long as possible. The time allocated to Mathematics in second year should be reviewed and consideration should be given to providing one additional mathematics class per week in second year when the timetable is being prepared in future years.
First-year mathematics classes are mixed ability. They are provided with a common programme that is delivered in a carefully synchronised manner. Common assessments, with agreed marking schemes, inform the composition of the second-year classes when they are set at the end of first year. In forming the second-year classes, due cognisance is also taken of the studentsí performance in the assessments provided as part of their transition to secondary school. This very good practice could be further enhanced by the provision of a common assessment to determine the mathematical skills and knowledge of the students at the beginning of first year. This assessment should be conducted once the students have settled into the school and the outcomes should inform the design and delivery of the first-year mathematics programme.
Once students complete the junior cycle, they have the option of entering Transition Year (TY) or may go directly into fifth year. TY is a popular choice with students and there are three class groups in TY this year. One of these groups follows higher-level Mathematics and the other two are mixed ability and follow ordinary level. Each class group is provided with four classes of Mathematics per week. The mathematics classes are timetabled concurrently and so opportunities for inter-class collaborative activities exist. These opportunities should be availed of and it is recommended that a range of collaborative inter-class, student-centred initiatives be put in place in the immediate to short term. Collaborative student-centred activities should form an integral part of any future mathematics TY programme in the school, the subject matter chosen for the activities should be drawn from outside of the Leaving Certificate curriculum. Furthermore, the future provision for Mathematics in TY should reflect the overall aims of the programme and the setting of classes should be avoided.
Provision for students with special educational needs or in need of learning support is very good. The mathematical capabilities of incoming students are established using appropriate standardised tests and following consultation with parents and with the class and learning-support teachers in the feeder primary schools. Additional support in Mathematics is delivered during small-group withdrawal from subjects from which the students are exempt. There are very clear lines of communication between the class and learning-support teachers. The learning-support coordinator attends the meetings of the mathematics department and written reports, profiling each student in receipt of support, are supplied by all teachers delivering learning support in Mathematics. The learning-support department is well resourced and the quality of teaching and learning observed in learning-support classes was of a very high quality.
Subject department planning is very well established and is a collaborative activity involving all of the members of the department. Regular formal meetings are held and those teachers who are teaching classes within the same year group hold frequent cluster meetings to discuss student progression and to plan assessments. This good practice ensures consistency of approach and enhances the degree to which department planning influences classroom activities.
A very good subject department plan is in place. It reflects the ethos of the department and provides a valuable framework to support its various activities. The plan contains detailed schemes of work for each year and level. The schemes are comprehensive and realistic and those detailing the material to be covered in foundation level in fifth year are particularly impressive. The upcoming syllabus changes mean that the schemes of work need to be rewritten. The new schemes should adopt the format currently in use at foundation level in fifth year.
The mathematics department has prepared a separate plan for Mathematics in TY. The stated aim of the TY mathematics programme is to address shortcomings in the studentsí mathematical skills base and to prepare the students for the Leaving Certificate programme. This is not reflected in the schemes of work contained in the plan and, therefore, the plan is in need of review. Firstly, the rationale for the material contained in the schemes of work needs to be clarified and the key skills that it is intended to deliver should be detailed. Secondly, provision should be made in the plan for the inter-class collaborative activities mentioned earlier in this report.
Individual teacher lesson planning is very good. The teachers were well prepared for class and, in all cases, due cognisance was given to the needs and abilities of the students in setting out and delivering the lessons. Materials prepared in advance of the lessons were integrated successfully into lesson delivery. The lessons were in line with the schemes of work contained in the subject department plan for Mathematics.
The lessons observed during the inspection were well structured and purposeful. The teachers had a very good command of the material being delivered and taught with great enthusiasm. Very good links were made with the studentsí prior learning and every effort was made to establish the relevance of the lesson content and to give it a realistic context. The very good practice evident in lesson delivery could be further enhanced if the lessonsí objectives were shared with the students at the beginning of the lessons and if time was set aside near the end of the lessons to review the lessonsí content and to establish the degree to which the objectives had been met.
The lessons were inclusive of all of the students and the level of differentiation in evidence was notable. The teachers were well aware of the needs of individual students and tailored their lesson delivery to meet these needs. In one instance, the use of a commercial brochure supported by a very good worksheet facilitated a lesson on applying simple arithmetic in developing household budgets. The students were free to work independently or to collaborate with their peers if the need arose. Excellent teacher movement ensured that students in need of additional assistance were accommodated. This lesson demonstrated the value of resource integration in facilitating student-centred learning. While all of the lessons visited featured effective teaching and good differentiation, there is considerable scope to increase the level to which resources, to enhance student-centred learning, are used in mathematics classes.
Classroom management was very good. The lessons were characterised by respectful interactions and very effective teacher questioning. The teachers had high expectations of the studentsí behaviour and engagement. These expectations were realised. The students contributed positively to the lessons by asking good questions and proposing alternative solutions where appropriate.
The quality of student learning in Mathematics was very good. The students were well able to carry out the tasks assigned to them and their written work, evident from their homework copybooks and their notebooks, was of a very high quality. Student attainment and the uptake of higher-level Mathematics in the certificate examinations offered further evidence of the quality of student learning.
The mathematics department employs excellent assessment procedures. The first-year mathematics programme is assessed using tightly scheduled common assessments, designed by the teachers and corrected using an agreed marking scheme. The papers produced for the assessments are of a high standard. The range of abilities of the students sitting the assessments is reflected in use of differentiated questions and marking schemes. This assessment model is implemented, within levels, from second through to sixth year.
A homework policy is in place and is being implemented assiduously by the mathematics department. Homework was assigned and corrected in each lesson observed during the inspection and the students were provided with very good verbal feedback while homework was being corrected. Difficulties encountered by students in doing homework informed how the early part of the lessons unfolded and provided opportunities for revision and for shared learning. Homework copybooks are appropriately monitored. However, it would be preferable if Assessment for Learning were adopted as a key assessment vehicle in providing feedback on homework assignments.
The teachersí diaries are used very effectively in recording student attendance and their attainment in class and formal tests. Student compliance with homework completion is also recorded. The school has recently introduced the student diary as a means of ongoing communication with parents. The diaries are being used to good effect and their continued use is encouraged. Regular contact is also maintained through the class tutors, year heads and senior management. Each year group has one parent-teacher meeting per year.
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:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Mathematics and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2010