An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Science and Biology
Killinarden Community School
Killinarden, Tallaght, Dublin 24
Roll number: 91337B
Date of inspection: 1 April 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Biology
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Killinarden Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Science and Biology 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 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.
Killinarden Community School was established in 1982. It is a co-educational school that currently caters for 401 students. The school provides the Junior Certificate and Junior Certificate School Programme in the junior cycle, and the Leaving Certificate (Established) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programmes in senior cycle. The school has been included in the current Delivering Equality of Opportunity in our Schools (DEIS) programme of the Department of Education and Science.
Students are assessed prior to entry to Killinarden Community School. A combination of banding and streaming is used when forming class groups, which are based on student ability. There is scope for students to move between the class groups for a limited period, to ensure all students are appropriately placed. It is commendable that Junior Certificate Science is a core subject for all junior cycle students.
Time allocation for junior cycle science is in line with syllabus recommendations. First-year and second-year classes are allocated four single periods for Science each week. Third years are provided with one double and two single periods. Class sizes are kept small in order that all students can be monitored closely. This is good practice. One class in each year group follows the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and these students are allocated two single periods each week. While these students study Science, they do not sit the Junior Certificate science examination. This arrangement, which is designed to provide for the specific needs of the student cohort, should be kept under review to ensure that it is always the most appropriate for the students concerned and that it provides the best possible support for these students.
Following the Junior Certificate, students choose between the established Leaving Certificate and the LCA programme. Students following the established Leaving Certificate are divided into two streams according to the students’ academic ability. Biology is offered as an optional subject for students in the upper stream. For students in the lower stream, Biology is a core subject and they have a reduced set of optional subjects. This situation, while designed to provide for the needs of students, should be kept under review to ensure that students are not overly restricted in their subject options. All senior cycle biology classes are allocated five periods each week, including at least one double period. This is in line with syllabus recommendations. LCA students do not follow a module in the sciences.
The science department is comprised of four teachers who are deployed in line with their qualifications. It was evident from the outset of the inspection that science teachers are keen to promote positive attitudes towards the sciences and to encourage the students to achieve to the best of their ability. Teachers retain the same class groups from first year for the remainder of junior cycle and from fifth to sixth year. This is very good practice as it ensures continuity of approach and facilitates long-term planning. Management actively supports teacher attendance at relevant continuous professional development (CPD) courses and a number of whole-school professional development events have been organised in the recent past. Topics such as classroom management and effective listening and learning in the classroom have formed part of the CPD provision. Management is commended for its commitment to in-service training. Commendably, all teachers are members of the Irish Science Teachers Association (ISTA), the professional body for science teachers.
The science teachers, with the support of management, are involved in a number of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities and very good links have been put in place with third-level institutions. These activities are used as a means of stimulating interest in and supporting the sciences in the school. Activities include encouraging and supporting students to enter the BT Young Scientist and Technology exhibition, organising and participating in Science Week activities, visits to the zoo and relevant industries, hosting visiting speakers and taking part in science-related competitions and quizzes. The science teachers are commended for their work in providing students with these opportunities.
There are four science laboratories, a tiered demonstration room and a resource room available to the science department, in addition to access to the school’s computer rooms. The laboratories are in good condition, well equipped and adequate for their purpose. The laboratories and demonstration room are linked by a large storage and preparation area. This area is well stocked and well ordered. Resources available to the science teachers include a fixed data projector in the demonstration room, and computers with broadband provision in each laboratory. The provision of such resources by management is to be commended. All science classes are held in a laboratory. A variety of posters and charts were observed on the laboratory walls, creating an appropriate and stimulating learning environment. Commendably, these displays included student-generated work. It is recommended that use be made of the corridors outside the laboratories to display a variety of charts and posters to promote the sciences, to display student project work, to highlight career opportunities and to advertise science-related events.
A range of health and safety equipment was observed in the laboratories, including electricity isolation switches, fire blankets and fire extinguishers and first-aid kits. Active consideration was given to health and safety during student practical work. It is recommended that displaying simple and direct laboratory rules in a more prominent manner will enhance this attention to safety. The school has a health and safety statement that was drawn up with appropriate consultation and which is reviewed annually. This is good practice.
There is evidence of a strong sense of collegiality among the science teachers. The science department is very ably co-ordinated and the co-ordinators position is rotated among the science teachers. Funding for the sciences is provided as requested and management has been very supportive of such requests. This is commendable.
Subject department planning in Science and Biology is well established. Regular formal planning meetings are held and the minutes of these meetings are copied to management. Frequent informal meetings are also held to manage ongoing issues. Comprehensive subject plans for Junior Certificate Science and Leaving Certificate Biology are in place and are reviewed annually. These plans include detailed schedules for the delivery of courses. Individual teachers have further adapted the plans to suit their own classes. Significant work has been carried out on developing learning outcomes for individual topics. Planning for differentiation has also commenced recently. This is excellent practice. It is recommended that these learning outcomes are closely linked with assessment objectives thus ensuring compatibility between what is taught and what is assessed. A very large bank of resources has been compiled over time and these are available to all science teachers. The benefits of this work were apparent in the quality of the classroom interactions observed by the inspector. The science teachers are highly commended for their efforts.
Building on work already done and in order to maximise the benefits accruing from the school’s information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and to facilitate ongoing resource development, it is recommended that a member of the science team be chosen to identify suitable ICT resources, to recommend strategies for their integration into teaching and learning and to source appropriate training. The subject department plan for the sciences should also be amended to reflect this work. It is also recommended that the science teachers meet with the senior management team annually to review the performance of students in the state examinations with reference to the statistics supplied by the State Examinations Commission.
Short-term planning was evident in the lessons observed. This was reinforced by the observed familiarity of teachers with the subject matter involved. A coherent theme was also present in the lessons. There was prior preparation of the resources, materials and the apparatus required for demonstration and student-centred investigative work and this preparation was instrumental in ensuring that lessons were of a good quality.
Patience and consideration of students’ needs were characteristic of the lessons observed, where a good learning environment was evident and good discipline was apparent. Students were challenged by lesson content and they responded well, showing interest in and good engagement with the learning process. Teaching was carried out with enthusiasm and there was a good level of interaction between teachers and students in all lessons observed.
The material covered in the lessons observed was appropriate to the curriculum and was in keeping with subject department plans. Lesson content included microbiology, enzymology, ecology, genetics, measurement and human reproduction. There was evidence of differentiation in the manner in which all lessons were conducted and an atmosphere of affirmation and support of students’ efforts was evident at all times, encouraging students to achieve according to their abilities. Lessons were well paced and good progress was made in all cases. Commendably, there was good use of subject-specific language evident in all lessons.
Lessons were well structured and students were kept busy and actively engaged at all times. In some instances, when a new topic was introduced, the development of links between it and previous work was observed, thus providing a base from which to develop the new topic. This good practice should be followed by all teachers. New material was then presented and students were provided with opportunities to put new learning into practice, before the lesson was summarised and homework assigned. The outlining of objectives or learning outcomes was observed in one lesson. Informing students of what is expected of them from the lesson helps focus their learning and is also very useful at the end of the lesson to aid recall of the work completed.
A variety of well-chosen and stimulating student-centred teaching methodologies was observed and changes in methodologies were seamlessly executed. These methodologies included questioning of students, demonstrations, practical work, discussion, student writing, use of the classroom whiteboard, use of student worksheets and the use of ICT. The whiteboard was used well in most lessons to record, highlight or summarise information.
In one lesson observed, ICT was used to set out lesson objectives, to illustrate a review of earlier learning and to introduce new material. Students were provided with worksheets to help them put their learning into practice. The teacher was in constant circulation throughout the lesson, assisting students and affirming their efforts. This resulted in an interesting student-centred lesson, with a high level of student motivation evident. Such an interactive lesson is an example of good practice in the integration of ICT into teaching and learning.
A mixture of questioning techniques and question types was used in all lessons, ranging from lower order questions, testing recall, to questions of a higher order that were more challenging and encouraged students to think at a deeper level. Skilful questioning was also used to develop student understanding and to help maintain a high level of student engagement in some lessons. It is important to ensure that all students are included in question and answer activities and, when directing questions to individual students, to allow sufficient time for students to compose their answers and raise their hands before choosing a respondent.
Student practical activities were observed in some of the lessons. Students demonstrated a good level of skill when carrying out their various tasks and they displayed a mature approach to their work. Plenary sessions were facilitated by teachers before and after the bench work. This afforded students an opportunity to review procedures in advance of carrying out the activity and to discuss and rationalize their findings afterwards. Health and safety considerations were well managed. This is good practice.
Reference to appropriate passages in textbooks was used to reinforce learning and to assist in homework preparation. Otherwise, reference to textbooks was minimal and consistent with 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, was varied, and was designed to assist each student in learning and understanding the topic in question.
Students demonstrated a positive attitude towards Science and Biology as evidenced by the level of engagement and interest observed during the lessons. Students are assessed on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, through correction of homework and through teacher observation of students during class, as noted by the inspector. The quality of student learning was good. Students successfully carried out the different tasks assigned during the lessons and displayed a good knowledge of the material being covered. In conjunction with the increased awareness of differentiated teaching methodologies apparent in the science department, it is recommended that the approach of Assessment for learning (AfL) be examined in order to enhance teachers’ capacity in monitoring student performance and responding to their needs. The website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, at www.ncca.ie, contains further information on AfL.
Observation of student practical laboratory notebooks indicated that the quality of some of the students’ work was good, but that, overall, there was a degree of variation. While there is evidence to show that copybooks are being examined by teachers, the science team should consider the development of a consistent approach to the correction of the laboratory copies and copybooks. It is recommended that monitoring of student practical notebooks be carried out and that it be incorporated into the scheme for assessment for all year groups.
Students in non-examination classes sit formal examinations at Christmas and prior to the summer holidays. Common papers, corrected in accordance with agreed marking schemes, are provided in all formal examinations. Students in certificate examination classes sit formal examinations at Christmas and sit mock examinations during the second term. In-house examination papers are designed to mirror the style of certificate examination papers. This is good practice. It is recommended that a portion of marks be allocated for the satisfactory completion of the students’ practical workbooks. Additional informal testing, including end-of-term assessments, is carried out frequently and at the discretion of the teachers.
The results of class and formal tests are recorded in the teachers’ diaries. Very good practice in relation to monitoring and recording student attendance and attainment was evident. The teachers’ diaries were also used very effectively, in some cases, to record difficulties encountered by students.
Reports issue to parents after the formal and mock examinations. Communication with parents is also achieved by means of parent-teacher meetings, held once per year for each class. In addition, the student journal that all students are required to keep is used to communicate with parents. The school operates an open door policy and parents are encouraged to contact the school if they have any concerns regarding their children’s performance. This is good practice.
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 Biology and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, October 2009