An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Mathematics
Gorey Community School
Gorey, County Wexford
Roll number: 91492N
Date of inspection: 26/27 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in MATHEMATICS
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Gorey 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 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, deputy principal and a selection of subject teachers.
The time allocated to mathematics in Gorey Community School is appropriate; four periods, of forty minutes duration, are allocated for first year and Transition Year (TY) classes and five for second and third years. Leaving Certificate classes have six periods per week in fifth year and five in sixth year. The Leaving Certificate Applied programme has three periods of Mathematical Applications in both its first and second years.
It is commendable that mathematics classes are concurrently timetabled for all years. At junior cycle this is done within two bands in each year group. For TY, fifth and sixth years, all classes within the year groups take place at the same times. This allows students access to all levels of the subject throughout their studies and facilitates transfer between levels. Also, additional teachers allocated to mathematics classes allow the formation of small or level-appropriate groups, further evidence of the school’s commitment to providing a high quality mathematics education for all its students.
On entering Gorey Community School, first-year students are allocated to class largely on a mixed-ability basis. However, for Mathematics, first-year classes are taught separately for higher, ordinary and foundation levels. While it is reported that students are encouraged to study the subject at the highest level possible and there is close monitoring of placements during the first term, it is recommended that the mathematics team consider teaching first-year mathematics classes as mixed-ability groupings. This would allow an appropriate settling-in period, free of potentially unsettling changes of class, prior to choosing level of study. The setting of common tests across all first-year classes, possibly with the exclusion of those with identified special educational needs, at the end of Christmas and summer terms would help to support teachers in their recommendations and students and parents in their decisions regarding level of study for the remainder of the junior cycle.
Teachers are assigned to classes and levels by school management, following an established annual consultation process. It is policy and practice within the school for teachers to remain with the same class groups from first to third year and from fifth to sixth year, where possible, thus maintaining high levels of continuity. Currently Leaving Certificate higher level classes are shared between four teachers: at junior cycle, levels are rotated among a wider group of teachers.
The mathematics department in Gorey Community School is large, with more than twenty teachers, not all subject specialists, involved in the teaching of the subject. On a very practical level, the facilitation of meetings, the development of collaborative work practices and for planning and review activities, a smaller team would be more appropriate. This can be achieved over time through the development of a core team of mathematics teachers, each of whom is allocated significant contact time with the subject.
Students identified as finding Mathematics particularly challenging are supported through the allocation of additional lesson time (at junior cycle), team teaching and/or the formation of smaller classes. There are also plans being developed by a committee of teachers to establish a ‘maths support centre’ which can be accessed by students on a ‘drop-in’ basis. Furthermore, the school has put in place an initiative which sees TY students paired with those following the Junior Certificate School Programme to support mathematics learning. Such commitment and innovation is applauded.
Co-curricular activities in mathematics are available to students within the school. These include two competitions—the Irish Mathematics Olympiad and the Team Maths quiz—and talks by guest speakers. Leaving Certificate students are currently being offered a structured revision course outside of school time and there can also be extra classes or the marking of extra work offered by individual teachers. Again, all the teachers involved are commended for their commitment to the students and to the subject.
Links with feeder primary schools have been established over a number of years. It is now recommended that subject-specific links be created with a selection of teachers of sixth classes. Members of the mathematics team could use the opportunities provided by such links to share information with their primary counterparts on course content, methodologies and approaches. As well as contributing to better mutual understanding among teachers it will be a valuable additional measure in easing the transition for students from primary to post-primary level.
School management facilitates and encourages attendance at continuous professional development courses and a number of teachers have availed of courses offered this year.
The mathematics department is co-ordinated on a rotating basis. Meetings take place formally around school planning activities and informally outside of timetabled hours. Agendas are prepared with input from both the principal and mathematics team and records are written up. It is suggested that agendas of team meetings be expanded to include a time for sharing feedback from continuous professional development courses attended. It is also suggested that time be set aside at meetings for teachers to discuss teaching approaches and methodologies used.
The mathematics team have made considerable and commendable progress in the preparation of their department plan, which includes aims and objectives for mathematics education within the school, organisational details and details of supports available or planned for students, a record of continuous professional development courses attended by teachers and agreed programmes of work for each year group and level. The effort and commitment of all teachers involved is recognised and applauded.
To build on what has already been achieved in the documentation of the long-term programmes of work, it is recommended that course content be explicitly linked to relevant active methodologies, furthering the sharing of and implementation of sound professional practice. The publications Junior Certificate Mathematics Guidelines for Teachers and Calculators: Guidelines for Post Primary Schools could make a significant contribution in this area. Also, it is suggested that, in support of the department’s stated focus on mathematics terminology, lists of key words associated with each topic be drawn up.
The mathematics department works collaboratively as evidenced by records of meetings presented for inspection. Review is ongoing and teachers show a willingness to “try things differently” to achieve the best results.
In almost all classes observed, lesson content was appropriate and in line with syllabus requirements and agreed programmes of work. The method of presentation of work was generally clear and suited to the task and teachers were well prepared for their teaching. In order to ensure that the goal of the lesson is clear at all times, it is suggested that teachers explicitly share the lesson objectives with students. Such statements, in line with the principles of assessment for learning, can increase student motivation and allow for a review of learning at the close of the lesson.
Teaching was predominantly conducted through the presentation of work at the board followed by the setting of exercises for individual student practice. To complement this traditional teaching style it is recommended that a wider range of teaching methodologies be explored and developed, as well as the use of ‘hands-on’ materials. The incorporation of such strategies in lessons acknowledges students’ different preferred learning styles and takes advantage of the widely accepted benefits for students of being actively involved in their own learning.
There were commendable examples of teachers having high expectations of students’ capabilities and students responded in line with this. Other examples of good practice in mathematics teaching observed in lessons visited included using clear methods in worked examples, affirming student effort, making cross-curricular links, accurate use of mathematical terminology, closing the lesson with a review of work covered and actively involving students in class. ideas. This commendable practice helps students to consolitate ers a
Interaction between teachers and students often took the form of brief answers by the students to questions posed by the teacher, sometimes to the whole class, on finding the next steps in the solution to a problem. There were, however, in line with good practice, some cases of teachers using questioning to extend students’ understanding and encourage the expression of mathematical ideas. This commendable practice can help students to consolidate their learning, maintain engagement with the topic and foster a problem-solving approach. It is recommended, therefore, that all teachers make more use of probing questions, appropriately challenging students and supporting them in developing the skills of mathematical thinking and communication.
Classroom management, as observed, was, for the most part, relaxed and effective. Students were attentive to and engaged in their work and mutual respect between students and teachers was in evidence. There were many examples of the effective use of class time to provide assistance to individual students.
A random examination of students’ copybooks revealed relevant work, with varying standards of presentation, generally monitored by teachers. In one class group, an example, carefully worked and laid out on the board, at the beginning of a topic, was appropriately copied and used by students as a template for subsequent work.
Student progress is assessed through oral questioning, the assignment and correction of homework, chapter tests and term examinations. Teachers generally keep records of students’ achievements in assessments. There is good use of common exams for classes studying at the same levels and for first year students in November. Progress is formally reported to parents/guardians twice each year, or in the case of fifth and sixth-year students three times, and through parent-teacher meetings.
School management provides the team with an analysis of performance in the Certificate examinations each year and teachers are aware of the school’s standing in this regard. It is suggested that examination data available in the school and from the website of the State Examinations Commission (www.examinations.ie) continue to be discussed, possibly along lines indicated during the inspection visit, thus maximising its potential for planning and review purposes.
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 and one of the school’s deputy principals, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.