An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science
Árd Scoil Chiaráin Naofa
Clara, Co. Offaly
Roll number: 72530L
Date of inspection: 6 May 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Árd Scoil Chiaráin Naofa, Clara, Co. Offaly. 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 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 the 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.
Árd Scoil Chiaráin offers the Junior Certificate and Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) to junior cycle students. Senior cycle students can avail of the optional Transition Year (TY) programme before progressing to the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) or Leaving Certificate (Established) programmes. Students who choose to follow the Leaving Certificate (Established) programme are also enrolled in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) if they are studying an appropriate combination of subjects. Current subject choice procedures are designed to encourage and facilitate all Leaving Certificate students to qualify to follow the LCVP. The school is commended for offering such a wide range of programmes to cater for the specific needs of students. The school has been included in the current Delivering Equality of Opportunity in our Schools (DEIS) programme of the Department of Education and Science.
Commendably, Science is a core subject for Junior Certificate students in Árd Scoil Chiaráin Naofa. Classes are streamed on the basis of students’ abilities and one stream, in first year, follows the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). The timetable is structured in order to facilitate movement of students between classes, should this be desirable. This is good practice. First-year and second-year classes are allocated four periods for Science each week, including a double period. Third years are provided with five periods, including one double period, each week. Classes are appropriately distributed throughout the week. The school is commended for these generous allocations of time for science students. In senior cycle students wishing to continue their studies in the sciences are provided with four periods of Biology each week, including a double period, in TY. LCA students follow the science elective and are allocated five periods each week. Biology is offered as an optional subject to Leaving Certificate students who are allocated five periods per week. The overall allocation of time to the sciences is good and the school is commended for the extent to which the sciences are supported on the curriculum.
There are currently two teachers of science subjects in the school and they are deployed in line with their qualifications. The science teachers work hard to promote the sciences. Teachers retain the same class groups from first year through to third year. This is effective practice as it provides a sense of continuity for students. Management facilitates teachers to attend relevant continuous professional development (CPD) courses. It is suggested that the teachers give consideration to joining the Irish Science Teachers Association (ISTA), the professional body for science teachers.
Ecology fieldwork is carried out locally at junior cycle, while senior cycle students are brought to an outdoor education centre. The school encourages and facilitates active participation by students in a variety of science-related extra-curricular activities including the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, Science Week, and the organisation of visiting speakers and industrial visits. The science teachers are commended for their work in providing such opportunities for students.
There is one science laboratory in the school. It is very well maintained, well equipped and adequate for its purpose. Access to the laboratory for science classes is maximised when timetables are being prepared and the science teachers may also make further arrangements where necessary. This is good practice. There is a storage and preparation room adjacent to the laboratory. It is recommended that a colour code system, available on the website of physical sciences initiative at http://chemistry.slss.ie/ch_safetydocs.html, be used to arrange those chemicals that are not stored separately from other chemicals. Resources available to the science teachers include a laptop computer and data projector, a television, a DVD player and a video recorder. The laboratory is broadband enabled. The provision of such resources by management is to be commended.
Displaying posters and charts on the laboratory walls, including some student-generated work, creates an appropriate and stimulating learning environment. It is suggested that a greater amount of student-generated work be included and that these displays be changed, occasionally, in line with the topics being taught, to highlight students’ project work and to provide information on careers in the sciences.
A high priority was placed on ensuring the health and safety of students in the laboratory and while carrying out practical work. The use of white laboratory coats, goggles and protective gloves was observed in one practical lesson. This attention to health and safety is commendable. In addition, a first-aid kit, gas and electricity isolation switches, a fire extinguisher and fire blanket, and an eye-wash station were in evidence, as were appropriate safety notices. Reference is made to health and safety in science planning documents also. This is good practice. The school has a health and safety statement that was drawn up with appropriate consultation. This statement has been reviewed in the recent past.
Although a co-ordinator has not been appointed, a working science department is in place and routines are operating smoothly. There is a strong sense of collegiality and mutual support between the science teachers and housekeeping tasks such as laboratory management, stock control and ordering of equipment are all managed co-operatively by the science teachers who deserve credit for the amount of work done. Funding for the sciences is provided as requested and management has been very supportive of such requests. This is commendable.
The science teachers meet frequently, both formally and informally and management is commended for making time available for formal meetings. A science department folder was presented for inspection. The contents of this very good folder included the mission statement of the school, the aims and objectives of the science department, assessment methods, record keeping procedures, reporting procedures, and useful methodologies, including those for assisting students with special educational needs. Details of cross-curricular links were set out in terms of the linking topics and the specific subject areas. A good bank of individual and shared resources has also been compiled over time. The science teachers are to be commended for the work they have carried out in compiling the science folder.
Schedules for the delivery of the Junior Certificate science course are included in the science folder. These schedules are based on material provided by the Junior Certificate Science Support Service. It is recommended that these schedules be tightened up and a list of topics, in Biology, Chemistry and Physics, to be taught in each term of the three years of the course be set out. It is also recommended that mandatory and other practical work be highlighted in the resulting planning document in order to facilitate the timely sourcing and preparation of the necessary resources and to help with the sharing of good practice.
It is recommended that, in view of the increasing provision of information and communications technologies (ICT) equipment and resources, planning for the increased use of ICT in teaching and learning and for identifying and acquiring appropriate resources and training should be given a greater priority.
Short-term planning for the lessons observed was evident from the obvious familiarity of teachers with the topics taught. A coherent theme was also present in each of the lessons. Prior preparation of the resources, materials and apparatus required for demonstration and student-centred investigative work was also evident. Such short-term planning and preparation contributed to the quality of both teaching and learning, and is praiseworthy.
Teachers adopted a student-centred approach in all the lessons observed and worked to maintain an atmosphere that was supportive and affirming of students and conducive to learning. Teachers demonstrated good classroom management skills, lessons were well paced and good progress was made in all lessons. Students were well challenged by lesson content and they responded very well: their behaviour was very good, they engaged very well in the classroom activities and participated positively in all classroom interactions. The quality of rapport between teachers and students was very good.
Lessons were mostly well structured, with students’ everyday experiences and prior learning being used as the basis for unfolding new material. This is good practice. However, it is recommended that the learning intention of the lesson be shared with students at the beginning of lessons, ideally in the form of desired learning outcomes. This will give direction to the lessons and provide a basis upon which the teacher can summarise the lesson content at the end of the lesson, and upon which homework can be given.
The topics addressed during the lessons observed included the skeleton, magnets and acid-base titrations. Methodologies appropriate to lesson content were deployed in all lessons observed and the use of subject-specific terminology was good. These methodologies included student practical activity, demonstration, use of worksheets and handouts, use of ICT, and questioning of students. The level of individual attention afforded to students facilitated a differentiated approach to teaching. This was evidenced by the manner in which teachers moved around the classrooms assessing students, assisting and supporting them, and encouraging them to perform to the best of their abilities.
An excellent example of the use of questioning of students as a technique to gradually unfold new material and to build up knowledge and comprehension was observed in one lesson. Beginning at a very simple level, the teacher asked students to examine and explore the materials that had been handed out and to answer some simple questions. Based on the answers received, progressively deeper and more penetrating questions were asked, gradually building up a bank of knowledge and understanding, based on students’ first-hand experience of the material provided and culminating in students having a full understanding of the concepts involved. The teacher is commended for facilitating this student-centred and investigative approach to learning Science.
Student practical work was observed in one lesson. Students demonstrated a good level of skill when carrying out their various tasks and they displayed a mature approach to their work. An appropriate plenary session was facilitated by the teacher in advance of the activity at which the theory of the upcoming work was reviewed. It is recommended that the details of the students’ tasks are also reviewed at this stage to ensure that students are precisely aware of the procedures they will be carrying out. A very good plenary session was held following the activity at which students were given an opportunity to review their work and to discuss and rationalise their findings. In a commendable intervention during this plenary session, the teacher reinforced the learning that had occurred by listing the skills that the students had practised during their work, emphasising the practical as well as the theoretical elements of the lesson. This is good practice.
Students were assigned homework at the conclusion of all lessons and were encouraged to note work given in their journals. This homework was appropriate to the lesson content and was designed to assist each student in learning and understanding the topic in question.
Arrangements for assessing and monitoring students in Ard Scoil Chiaráin Naofa are very good. Incoming students are assessed in the spring of their year of entry, to establish their range of abilities. Ongoing assessment by teachers of the level of student understanding of topics is carried out through questioning, examination of homework and general observation of students, as observed in class by the inspector and as outlined in the school’s assessment policy. Students displayed a good level of knowledge and understanding in the course of lessons and during interaction with the inspector.
Progress reports are issued to parents of students in first, second and fifth year in early November each year. These students are then formally assessed by means of Christmas tests, following which reports are issued to parents during parent-teacher meetings in January. These students are again formally assessed at the end of the school year and a third set of reports is issued. It is recommended that common papers, corrected in accordance with a common marking scheme, should be used where possible in a year group. TY students are monitored by means of continuous assessment. Their parents also receive progress reports in November, after Christmas and at the end of the school year. Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate students are formally assessed in November each year and parents receive reports at subsequent parent-teacher meetings. They are assessed again in the spring, by means of mock examinations, and a second report is issued. Additional testing is at the discretion of individual teachers, for example on completion of a topic or unit of work.
An examination of student laboratory notebooks indicated that the quality of most of the students’ work was good, but that, overall, there was some variation. The quality of work in a number of notebooks showed no progressive improvement over time. It is recommended that these laboratory notebooks are regularly monitored and that students are affirmed for good work, but also shown how to improve where their work falls below an acceptable standard.
Very good practice in relation to monitoring and recording student attendance and attainment was evident. The quality of record keeping by teachers was very good and comprehensive information was recorded, facilitating teachers to build up a profile of each student.
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 Science and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, November 2009