An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Mathematics
Oaklands Community College
Edenderry, County Offaly
Roll number: 72540O
Date of inspection: 19 October 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Mathematics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Oaklands Community College, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and deputy principal.
The time allocated to Mathematics is very good. Mainstream classes in Junior Cycle have five periods of Mathematics per week while students participating in the Junior Certificate Schools Programme (JCSP) in second and third year are provided with two additional classes of Mathematics each week. There are five classes of Mathematics per week in fifth and six in sixth year. Students following Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) have three classes of Mathematical Applications per week. All classes are forty minutes long.†
The scheduling of junior-cycle mathematics classes is in need of review. Currently there are two bands in first year. The upper band is comprised of one class which follows higher-level Mathematics. The lower band comprises two mixed-ability classes: these follow ordinary level Mathematics and are timetabled independently. There are three mathematics classes in both second and third year. The top class follows higher level in each year while the second class follows ordinary level. The third class is mainly comprised of JCSP students and follows foundation level. While the matthematics classes are timetabled concurrently in third year, they are timetabled independently in second year. The independent timetabling of mathematics classes militates against collaborative planning and means that students wishing to change level also need to change class groupings. It is therefore recommended that mathematics classes be timetabled concurrently within each year group in junior cycle. In order to further facilitate vertical movement of students, classes at the same level should follow common programmes with agreed schemes of work and should follow a common assessment schedule.
The scheduling of Mathematics classes in senior cycle is very good. One group in fifth year follow ordinary level mathematics while the second participate in LCA. There are two ordinary-level classes in sixth year which are timetabled concurrently. In all cases, the classes are well distributed through the week and the balance of provision between morning and evening is also very good.
Procedures in place to determine the mathematical ability of students entering the school are comprehensive. All incoming students sit appropriate standardised tests and additional information is gleaned through visits to the feeder primary schools, and verbal and written contributions from parents. Additional valuable information is also provided by the schoolís Home-School-Community Liaison co-ordinator. This process informs the composition of the bands in first year and also identifies those students in need of learning support or with special educational needs. In order that this process better inform the structure of the first-year mathematics programme, it is recommended that the existing assessment test be supplemented by a mathematics competency test. This test should be designed in partnership with the feeder primary schools and should identify the strengths and weaknesses in the mathematical skills and knowledge of the incoming cohort.
Upon entry to the school, all students should be placed in mixed-ability classes. A discrete learning support group should also be established if it is deemed necessary. A common programme with agreed schemes of work and common assessments should be delivered for the early part of the year to the mainstream mathematics classes. The common programme should address the weaknesses and develop the strengths identified in the assessment tests. It should seek to impart key skills to the students and utilise active teaching methods where appropriate. Common assessments should be provided according to an agreed schedule and the results should inform the formation of the classes when they are being set once the programme is complete.
Learning support in Mathematics is provided by a mathematics specialist during withdrawal from subjects other than Mathematics. The learning-support coordinator works closely with the mathematics teachers to ensure that the material being covered during withdrawal is appropriate to the needs of the students and is in keeping with the programme being followed in the mainstream classes. Following consultation with the mathematics teachers, individual education plans (IEPs) are drawn up for each student in receipt of learning support. This is very good practice.
JCSP students in second and third year receive additional support in Mathematics through the provision of two extra classes per week. These classes are taught by a member of the mathematics department. While this arrangement has its merits, consideration should be given to reconfiguring the support model to incorporate in-class support and team teaching. This model, which would enable targeted interventions and facilitate enhanced differentiation, would provide enhanced opportunities for students in these classes to follow ordinary-level Mathematics.
The mathematics department has undergone significant change in personnel in the immediate past. The qualifications profile of the reconfigured department is very good. Given that the department has a number of new members, considerable opportunities present themselves. Chief among these is that the existing good practice in relation to lesson preparation and delivery and assessment of studentsí work, evident in the case of the more established members, is adopted as standard across the department. Thus, it is suggested that future department meetings focus on the means of capturing and disseminating good practice and on agreeing procedures for accessing, developing and sharing appropriate resources.
The Mathematics department is very well resourced. Mathematics classes have access to the schoolís information and communication technology (ICT) room and computers and data projectors are available in the majority of classrooms. The mathematics teachers have also been very proactive in developing their own resources. Management supports the ongoing professional development of the teachers. A number of whole-school in-service courses have been provided in the recent past and the mathematics teachers have been released to attend a range of subject-specific courses.
Positive student attitudes towards Mathematics are cultivated through the provision of a number of co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Students participate in the Junior Certificate Mathematics competition and in the Prism competition, while Maths Week is celebrated in the school each year.
Subject department planning in Mathematics is well underway. Regular meetings are held, the minutes of which are available in the subject department plan. The department is very ably co-ordinated. Responsibility for co-ordinating the departmentís activities is agreed by rotation. This is very good practice as it gives all of the members of the department an opportunity to shape the development of the department and to become aware of new practices in teaching and learning Mathematics.
A comprehensive subject department plan, which contains detailed schemes of work for each year and level, is in place. In order to build on the very good work already under way and in light of the recent changes in personnel in the department; it is recommended that the schemes of work contained in the current subject department plan be reviewed. The evolving schemes should be written in terms of learning outcomes and should detail the effective teaching methods to be employed in achieving them. The review process should lead to enhanced levels of collaboration and a greater uniformity in lesson delivery.
Management has recently begun to analyse student performance in the certificate examinations, compared to national norms, using the statistics available from the State Examinations Commission. This is very good practice. However as this process is a key vehicle in driving department planning, it is advised that responsibility for analysing student performance in Mathematics in the state examinations devolve to the mathematics department.
Individual teacher planning is good and in a number of instances it is of the very highest quality. The quality of individual teacher planning was evident from the manner in which resources were seamlessly integrated into lesson delivery and the range of interactions and learning opportunities which resulted. There was extensive use of ICT in preparing worksheets and other classroom resources.
The lessons observed during the inspection were, in most cases, very well planned. In such instances, the intended learning outcomes were shared with the students at the outset of the lessons and a review of lesson outcomes was conducted just prior to their conclusion. This process ensured that the lessons were well paced, had a good structure and challenged the students appropriately. In addition, the best prepared lessons provided the students with opportunities for individual and collaborative learning, incorporated an array of resources and deployed teaching methods appropriate to the needs of the students.
In other instances, however, there was an over reliance on the textbook and on verbal communication with the students. These methods were particularly unsuited in situations where the studentsí literacy skills were poor. It is therefore recommended that the approaches adopted in lesson delivery reflect the best practice already evident in some classes, and take due cognisance of the language and literacy needs of the students. In instances where such difficulties are identified, greater emphasis should be placed on the use of visual media, and on active teaching and learning.
A number of teaching methods were in evidence. In one instance, resources in the form of adapted playing cards, posters and worksheets were used very creatively to review equivalent fractions and to introduce mixed numbers. The students worked in pairs with great enthusiasm and purpose on a number of tasks. Excellent teacher questioning served to reinforce the lessonís objectives and contributed to a lesson that was enjoyable and inclusive of all of the students.
In another case, worksheets supported by the overhead projector and excellent teacher questioning were used to review co-ordinate geometry and to introduce frequency distribution in statistics. The resources prepared in advance of the lesson were ideally suited to the needs of the students and allowed the teacher to move around the class assisting and challenging individual students when the need or opportunity arose. The purpose of the lesson was agreed at the outset, and remained in clear focus throughout. The attention to detail and innovation in preparing and delivering the lesson is worthy of the highest praise.
A lesson on trigonometry featured the use of differentiated worksheets which allowed the students to work at their own pace and to follow correct procedure in problem solving. The use of worksheets meant that the lessonís key objectives were clear and that rather than engaging in mundane repetitive tasks, the students could focus on mastering selected key skills. Very good teacher questioning, which sought to elicit responses to direct questions and to encourage the students to explain their reasoning, further served to reinforce the lessonís goals.
Very positive student behaviour was evident throughout. The atmosphere in the classrooms was conducive to learning and the lessons featured positive contributions from the students who proposed solutions to problems and asked very good questions. Posters and other subject-specific materials on the classroom walls promoted positive attitudes towards Mathematics and underlined the importance of Mathematics in the academic and wider world.
The quality of learning was, in almost all cases, very good. The students displayed a good grasp of the concepts being covered in the lessons and carried out the work assigned to them in a very competent manner. Ongoing feedback was provided throughout the lessons and helped ensure that the students could assess their own progress. This is very is good practice. The studentsí written work, evident from their homework copies and class tests, was also very good.†
Resulting from the analysis of student performance in the certificate examinations, management has identified the development of strategies to enhance the uptake of higher-level Mathematics in junior cycle and senior cycle as key priorities for the school in the immediate future.
Assessment practices in the mathematics department are very good. Ongoing assessment occurs through teacher questioning in class, homework assignments, the provision of in-class tests at the end of each topic and formal examinations. In some cases, the students maintain a folder containing all of their class and formal tests. The tests contained in the folders are of a very good standard and are presented in a student-friendly fashion. The completed tests are also signed by the parents prior to being archived. This very good practice enhances the profile of the tests and provides additional means of communication with parents.
Homework is regularly assigned and corrected. The studentsí homework copies are very well maintained and are monitored regularly. In most cases, the homework copies contain positive teacher comments and corrections. This very good practice should be adopted by all of the members of the department. Furthermore, the students should be encouraged to amend their own work while homework is being corrected in class.
Formal examinations are held for non-examination classes at Christmas and just prior to the summer holidays each year. The structure and standard of the papers set for the formal examinations are similar to those the students will encounter in the certificate examinations. This is very good practice. Reports issue to parents following these formal examinations. Students in third and sixth year sit mock examinations in February each year. An interim report, reflecting the performance and application of students in examination classes, issues to parents in November each year. Students in receipt of reasonable accommodation in the certificate examination receive similar consideration in the formal and mock examinations.
Practice in relation to recording student attendance and attainment in class and formal tests is very good. Roll call is taken at the beginning of class and is noted in the teachersí diaries. Student compliance with homework completion and their performance in class and formal tests are also recorded.
Very good use is made of the student diary in maintaining ongoing contact with parents. Telephone calls and formal letters to the home are also used if the need arises. There is one parent-teacher meeting per year for non-examination classes while there are two parent-teacher meetings for students in third and sixth year. Less formal meetings are also arranged if required.
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 principal and deputy principal, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2010