An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Mathematics
Bishopstown Community School
Roll number: 91397T
Date of inspection: 29 January 2010
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Mathematics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Bishopstown Community 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 examined students’ work. 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. 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.
Bishopstown Community School has an open enrolment policy and provides mathematics education, to boys and girls, appropriate to their needs in a caring environment. The school currently provides the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the Transition Year (TY) programme, the established Leaving Certificate (LC) and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme to its students. The school has introduced a unit for students with hearing impairments as part of its first-year programme. It is envisioned that this service will continue in the coming years. This response to the needs of the community is commended. In the current year, the only sixth-year students are those following the LCA programme. This is the result of the entire eligible student cohort choosing to follow the optional TY programme in 2007-8.
In the current year, students who wish to study Applied Mathematics are accommodated outside of timetabled hours. It is planned to reintroduce the subject within the timetable in the coming year. Those involved in the provision of this subject are commended.
The provision for Mathematics in the timetable is good. All junior cycle and TY classes have five periods of Mathematics per week. Provision in senior cycle is also good with six periods per week in fifth year. The LCA programme has three periods of Mathematical Applications in its second year. Mathematics classes take place concurrently in all years. This is good practice as it allows students to change level and is an encouragement to remain at the highest level possible for as long as is practicable. Teachers are assigned to classes by management and generally continue with classes from first to third year and from fifth to sixth year. This is good.
The good practice of having lessons distributed evenly during the school day and across the week is evident in the timetabling of Mathematics. However the first-year classes have three of their lessons in the afternoon. This should be avoided in future timetabling.
The school provides a range of interventions to assist students who find the subject challenging. Students in need of support in Mathematics are identified through psychological reports, pre-entry and post-entry assessments and meetings with parents. The school also maintains close contact with the local primary schools. In addition, teachers observe and monitor progress during first year. Support is provided through the generally small class sizes and the creation of a small class group in each year group in junior cycle. Identified students are also supported through additional one-to-one tuition. In order to ensure that the support structure continues to meet the needs of the students it is recommended that the range and scope of the interventions be reviewed and that additional supports, including team-teaching, be explored and introduced.
The school has introduced the JCSP programme in recent years. It is appropriate, in the context of the current student intake, that the entire cohort of junior cycle students follows the JCSP programme. However, this arrangement should be reviewed each year to ensure that the needs of the student intake continue to be met
There are a range of resources within the school to support the learning of students. The school has two computer rooms which can be used by classes. All classrooms are broadband enabled. The mathematics teachers have access to rooms with a laptop and data projector. The school has two rooms equipped with interactive whiteboards. There is also a selection of learning-support materials relevant to Mathematics. Additional supports such as the use of keyword lists and JCSP mathematics posters were in evidence during the evaluation.
Management supports the continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers by facilitating opportunities to attend in-service courses in Mathematics. Teachers have received training in whole-school approaches to Assessment for Learning and the JCSP. Mathematics teachers have attended courses organised by the Irish Mathematics Teachers’ Association (IMTA) and the Project Maths Development Team. This is good.
A number of teachers have joined the mathematics team in recent years. Commendably the school is currently involved in a national pilot project on teacher induction organised by the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. This mentoring programme is further supported by informal subject department support.
Students are provided with opportunities to participate in co-curricular activities associated with Mathematics. Students have competed in the Team Maths competition and Junior Mathematics competition organised by IMTA. The school also participates in the Problem Solving for Irish Second Level Mathematicians (PRISM) competitions, organised nationally as part of Maths Week Ireland, held in October each year. All involved in organising these activities are commended.
A review of uptake rates of Mathematics at specific levels, as well as results, is conducted within the school. This is good practice and should be used as a regular and natural part of the planning activities of the mathematics department.
There is currently a subject co-ordinator for Mathematics. The role of the co-ordinator rotates among members of the team. This is good practice as it helps in the development of wider leadership experience across the entire mathematics department. To aid this process, the duties of the subject co-ordinator should be agreed by the team and set down in the subject plan.
Formal planning and review meetings are scheduled around school planning days, and occur about three times a year. The good practice of having agendas for formal meetings is in place. These are also retained in the mathematics folder along with a short account of each meeting.
The mathematics team has made progress in planning. The plan is in line with the School Development Planning Initiative template and has been developed collaboratively over time. The department plan includes a mission statement, overall aims and objectives for mathematics education within the school and organisational details. It also includes reference to a variety of methodologies and a description of provision for students with special educational needs. This is in line with good practice and is commended. The long-term plan consists of a list of topics to be covered in each year. To build on this solid foundation, a review of programmes of work should see them expanded to include the resources, including software packages, currently in place to assist students in acquiring key skills and ideally linked to relevant mathematical topics. In addition, it is suggested that a teaching and learning focus should be applied to the subject-planning process. In the short term the Common Introductory Course section of the Project Maths syllabus review should be included as part of the first-year section of the plan. The plan should continue to be developed, over time, in order to link content and skills using a learning-goal oriented approach. A potentially useful resource for this work is the learning-targets statements for JCSP which are available at www.jcsp.ie. In addition, areas such as co-operative learning and assessment for learning could continue to be developed through teachers’ involvement with the Project Maths, SLSS and JCSP support services.
The focus of the TY plan is on Leaving Certificate material. Circular M1/00, The Transition Year Programme, states that: “A Transition Year programme is not part of the Leaving Certificate programme, and should not be seen as an opportunity for spending three years rather than two studying Leaving Certificate material.” It is therefore, recommended that the TY material be extended to incorporate a wider range of mathematical experience. The spirit of the TY programme puts the emphasis on teaching different Mathematics or on Mathematics taught and assessed differently. The website www.slss.ie/maths contains some ideas for TY mathematics modules.
Teachers had developed individual handouts and other supplementary materials and these were accessed and used during lessons visited. This is good practice.
Overall the teaching and learning observed was of a high standard. In the lessons observed, teachers’ presentation of work was clear and preparation for teaching was evident. Lesson content was in line with the schedule outlined in the subject plan for Mathematics. Lessons generally began with a review of the assigned homework. In most instances, the lesson topics were shared with the class at the outset. This is good practice. In some instances, to include students even more in the learning process, the objective was written on the board for students to record. Effective use was made of time to create links to the students’ prior learning and to their everyday experiences. The lessons were inclusive of all the students and proceeded at an appropriate pace. There was good emphasis on correct procedures in relation to core mathematical operations and on the use of appropriate mathematical terminology. Best practice was observed in those lessons where a review of the achievement of the learning objective was conducted towards the end of the lesson. In many instances, JCSP keyword posters were used effectively to emphasise the correct use of mathematical terminology.
Further examples of good practice in mathematics teaching observed, in Bishopstown Community School, included the affirming of students’ efforts, reviewing previous learning prior to introducing a new topic, the relating of learning to students’ experiences, the use of clear methods in arriving at solutions, the appropriate use of mathematical language by both teachers and students and high levels of attention to individual students. In general, the whiteboard, textbooks, handouts and worksheets and, to a lesser extent, learning aids and information and communication technology (ICT) were used as resources in lessons. Such good practice ensures that all students are encouraged to work to the best of their abilities and to engage with the learning activities in lessons.
The common teaching method used in lessons involved the teacher modelling a procedure at the board followed by students repeating the method on similar type questions while the teacher assisted individuals. It is recommended that the team broadens the range of teaching strategies used in lessons to best meet the needs of their student cohort. In this context the Mathematics: Junior Certificate Guidelines for Teachers outlines a range of methods such as practical work, discussion, group work, and quiz activities or investigative work that could be considered. The teaching and learning plans available on the Project Maths Development Team’s website www.projectmaths.ie as well as the sharing of experience within the team would also support this aim. The addition of a broader range of methodologies to the more traditional teaching style would help students to increase their confidence and self-esteem and encourage them to take more responsibility for their own learning.
Interaction between the teacher and students generally took the form of answers by the students to questions posed by the teacher. While, appropriately, many questions focused on finding the next steps in the solution of a problem, teachers could have availed of opportunities to built on their students’ answers by encouraging them to explain and justify their methods and thinking and exploiting the learning potential of incorrect answers. A varied range of questioning strategies is good practice as it helps students to consolidate their learning and maintain engagement with the topic.
Students, in most instances, demonstrated understanding of the concepts engaged with during the lessons in interactions with the inspector. They were able to answer questions posed to them in a confident manner and suggested solutions to questions set in unusual contexts.
Classroom management was effective and appropriate, and students were kept on task. Students were generally attentive to their work. There was a sense of mutual respect between teachers and students, creating an atmosphere that was conducive to learning.
A range of posters is displayed to create a visually stimulating mathematical environment in the classrooms. It is good that student-generated posters and examples of students’ work are on show in addition to JCSP materials.
The school has devised homework and assessment policies. This is positive and recognises that homework plays an important role in the learning process. Homework was assigned in the majority of lessons observed. In general, this homework was appropriate in terms of the quantity and relevance to the work done during the lesson. In some instances, however, students were not assigned homework. The teaching team should agree on a broad definition of the term “homework” and routinely set appropriate tasks for the students which would consolidate classroom learning or prepare for the following day’s topic.
Student progress is assessed through classroom observation, oral questioning, the assignment and correction of class work, homework, regular class topic tests and term examinations.
Progress in work covered in class and in study can be seen in students’ copybooks. An examination of a sample of mathematics copybooks revealed work that was appropriate, relevant and reasonably well presented. There was evidence of monitoring of students’ work, with, in some instances teachers’ written comments being used to encourage students’ efforts. This is good practice, in line with the principles of assessment for learning. Those involved are commended.
In some instances the correction by students of their incorrect work in copybooks was not evident. It is important that the correct version of each problem be available in students’ copybooks thereby creating a source of reference for students and a template for further work. It is therefore suggested that greater emphasis is placed on ensuring that students play an active role in the monitoring of their own work.
The mathematics plan indicates that students are informally assessed at the end of each topic completed, as well as formally assessed at times during the school year. In some instances teachers made available records of students’ attendance, performance in assessments and, on occasion, daily records of work undertaken or homework assigned. This is an indication that teachers are cognisant of the implications of students’ work, attendance and absences on their learning and progress.
Information, to parents, regarding students’ progress is facilitated via an annual parent-teacher meeting for each year group and the student journal. The school operates an open-door policy, thus facilitating ongoing communication with parents. Parents also receive reports from the school on their children’s progress twice per year. One report is issued for all classes after formal assessments at Christmas. Non certificate-examination classes have further formal assessments at the end of the school year. The remaining students sit their ‘mock’ examinations in the second term.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held 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