An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Science and Physics
Scoil Mhuire Community School
Clane, County Kildare
Roll number: 91372D
Date of inspection: 29 and 30 April 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Science and Physics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Mhuire Community School, Clane, 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.
Scoil Mhuire has offered Science as a core subject since 2008. This is commended as it provides more students with opportunities to choose suitable science subjects at senior cycle and with important science skills for life. 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 the optional Transition Year (TY) programme in which students take ten-week modules in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. There is very good science provision at senior cycle with Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered each year. Uptake of senior science subjects is very good, with for example in excess of twenty students taking Physics in fifth year and sixth year. Students are well supported in making an informed choice through input from the guidance counsellor and specialist input from the science teachers, and a parents’ information evening. In the current year, in excess of eighty percent of senior students chose a science subject for Leaving Certificate. This is commended.
Time allocation to Science at junior cycle and to science subjects at senior cycle is satisfactory with one double and two single class periods in each year of junior cycle, one double and one single class period in TY and two double and one single class period at senior cycle.
There are five 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.
Four well-equipped teacher-based laboratories are in operation in the school. Laboratories are well maintained and equipment is stored in an orderly and safe manner. In addition, the laboratories are enhanced with many relevant models, posters and charts, and students’ work is also on display. The demonstration room is also used for Science teaching.
There are generally good health and safety practices in the science laboratories. Safety equipment was in evidence and laboratory rules were on display. Some items are in need of attention or repair, for example the ventilation of the chemical store room and the fume hood in one of the laboratories, and school management should ensure that the necessary work is done.
ICT facilities have been provided in the science laboratories and good progress has been made in provision of facilities over recent years. However, it is recommended that ICT facilities be enhanced in the science department as resources permit.
Students are encouraged to partake in a number of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities including participation in the BT Young Scientists’ Competition, Science Olympiads, 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. There are also displays of science projects at open night and some parents’ information evenings. This is commended.
Formal science department planning meetings are convened on two to 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 on an ongoing basis. It is praiseworthy that science teachers met on one occasion to discuss differentiation and its application to students with additional needs. Coordination of Science is very effective and duties listed in the science plan include the scheduling of meetings, stock control, induction of new staff and co-ordination of assessments. It is very praiseworthy that all the recommendations made in a previous subject inspection report in Physics have been addressed and fulfilled.
An agreed comprehensive common science plan was made available in the course of the evaluation. The plan is wide-ranging and addresses many aspects of science provision including resources, health and safety and assessment criteria. A long term plan for the development of Science in the school is included. Agreed schemes of work for each year group are included in the plan and each section is dealt with extensively. The science department is highly commended for this work. However, it is recommended that course content be linked to syllabus learning outcomes in further developing the plan. A very good physics plan is in place addressing many key aspects of teaching and learning and including comprehensive schemes of work and detailed plans for each section of the course. It is recommended that this plan be further updated in line with the science plan to include a section on long-term planning for the development of the subject.
A bank of shared resources has been compiled over time and made available to teachers on a data drive. In addition, resource folders are available for every aspect of Science. Teachers also maintain high-quality personal resource folders. This level of planning is highly commended.
The TY plan is in need of further development. Some modules contain mainly Leaving Certificate material and this requires review to bring it in line with Department guidelines. In addition, the recommended template for writing a TY programme should be utilised. Science teachers should meet as a group to review TY programme content for the coming school year. TY planning should keep the innovative, unique nature of TY and its curriculum as its focus.
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, leading to successful learning outcomes as evidenced during the evaluation.
The quality of teaching and student learning was very high during all lessons evaluated. Students were challenged to meet their potential and were motivated to learn throughout lessons observed. There was a very good atmosphere for learning with a positive classroom rapport. Lessons progressed seamlessly with a pace appropriate to the class group. 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. A supportive environment was created in which student learning was enhanced. Teachers are highly commended in this regard.
There was a clear structure to all lessons. In many cases student learning was incrementally built up and continuously reinforced. Lesson objectives were shared with students at the outset of most lessons. It is recommended that this good practice be extended across all lessons. In addition, students should be encouraged to carry out some research in advance of some lessons, especially those where a new topic is being introduced. This would enhance ownership of the learning process.
Methodologies were varied and led to effective student learning. ICT was particularly well utilised to reinforce learning in some lessons. It was used very effectively in animations to depict ionic and covalent bonding and to demonstrate the production of X-rays. These short clear inputs consolidated learning. ICT was also utilised to present new material to students and to act as a focus for key ideas and concepts. In one revision lesson, where acid rain was discussed, it was very effectively used to focus students’ attention on important core lesson material. The board and overhead projector were also very well utilised in the delivery of key lesson content. Revision worksheets were distributed during some lessons and it is recommended that they be more widely used in appropriate lessons. Group work was encouraged in many lessons and opportunities for the more widespread use of group work should be considered. Feedback gathered from students often led to lively classroom discussion. Science and Physics were made relevant to everyday life in many lessons and there were good links made to the historical development of Physics and Science.
Practical investigations formed the core of some lessons visited. Students carried out an investigation on the measurement of the density of a rock in one lesson. This task was well organised and students worked in a collaborative way to reach the desired learning outcomes. Practical demonstrations also played an important role in revision and in consolidating student learning. Experiments on the production of oxygen gas, the electrolysis of water and the activity series were successfully demonstrated in one lesson observed. Students were constantly assessed through appropriate questioning strategies with a ‘hands down’ approach being adopted.
There was effective use of questioning in all lessons observed. 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.
Academic student achievement is good overall. The uptake of higher-level science is currently very good and a sizable proportion of students achieve a high grade. It is very encouraging that Physics is taken by a wide cohort of students. However, there is scope for an increased uptake of Physics at higher level.
Assessment criteria for Science and Physics are clearly laid out in subject department planning documentation. Teachers maintain very good records of student assessments and attendance. Third-year and sixth-year classes sit pre-examinations in October and February. Formal examinations take place at Christmas and summer for all other class groups. TY students do not sit formal examinations and are assessed on an ongoing basis. There is ongoing testing on completion of each syllabus topic.
A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for each year group. Reports are sent to parents following formal examinations and after each ten-week module for TY students. Further communication with parents takes place through the school homework journal, open evenings and information nights.
A school assessment policy and homework policy are in place. There is clear emphasis on regular homework, class testing and revision and this was in evidence during classroom visits throughout the evaluation. 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 be further monitored to ensure that students take full cognisance of teachers’ annotation. It is very praiseworthy that mandatory experiments are assigned a portion of marks in Christmas and summer examinations.
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 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 June 2010