An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:

Science and Mathematics 2007

 

REPORT

 

St Eithne’s Girls’ National School

Edenmore, Dublin 5

Uimhir rolla: 18969C

 

Date of inspection: 6 December 2007

Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008

 

 

 

Introduction

School background and context

Provision and use of resources

Quality of whole -school planning in Science and in Mathematics

Quality of learning and teaching in Science and Mathematics

Future development of Science and Mathematics

Conclusion

School Response to the Report

 

 

Introduction

An evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in St Eithne’s Girls’ National School (GNS) was undertaken in December, 2007. The evaluation focused on the provision for Science and Mathematics and on the quality of pupils’ achievement in these curricular areas. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement.  The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

1. School background and context

St Eithne’s GNS, Edenmore is located in Raheny in North Dublin. The school was founded by the Poor Servants of the Mother of God in 1966. A member of the order served as principal of the school until 2000 when the board of management appointed a lay principal for the first time. The chairperson of the board is a member of the order.

 

The school caters for girls from second to sixth class. The main feeder school is St Monica’s Infant school which is on the same campus. St Eithne’s GNS is a three storey building with ample space and facilities and shares the general purpose room with St Monica’s.

 

The school was awarded a Digital School’s award in 2006 in recognition of its approach to integrating information and communications technology (ICT) into teaching and learning. The school’s website www.steithnes.com is highly commendable. In 2007, its website was given the Star Site award from Scoilnet and National Centre for Technology (NCT). St Eithne’s GNS has also been given two awards for excellence in Science for its endeavours in the Discover Primary Science project. The school was awarded the Green Flag in 2006 and is working strenuously to renew it in this current academic year. St Eithne’s GNS participates in both the School Completion Programme (SCP) and in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools initiative (DEIS).  

 

The school has a highly supportive and committed administrative principal. She is professional, efficient and empowering. She is ably assisted by six mainstream classroom practitioners, a language support teacher, a learning-support teacher, a learning-support/resource teacher and a special class teacher based in the school. A resource teacher for travellers, a part-time resource teacher and a home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator based in schools in the community also serve the school very well. Overall, the teachers are competent and enthusiastic and give undivided support to the school. Three special needs assistants, a secretary, a caretaker and a cleaner complete the staffing roster.

 

The school’s crest highlights “Growing and Learning Together” and this symbolises all that happens in St Eithne’s GNS as all the partners work in collaboration with each other. Parents support pupils with their design and make activities, attend the science day in the school, accompany the pupils on science excursions and view the pupils’ work on the school website. The HSCL co-ordinator visits the homes and the school. There are 129 pupils enrolled in the school. They receive nutritious snacks and lunches daily. They present as well behaved pupils and benefit from a wide variety of interesting educational experiences.

 

2. Provision and use of resources

 

2.1 Resources for Science

There is an extensive range of materials and equipment available in the school to support teachers in implementing Science in the school. The school’s enthusiastic staff is its most valuable resource. All of the teaching staff have engaged in continuous professional development in Science. The effective and hardworking science post-holder is a trained Discover Primary Science (DPS) tutor and is at present pursuing further studies in science education. Another post holder, the Green Schools co-ordinator is also a DPS tutor. The diligent deputy principal, who is the ICT co-ordinator, lectures in computers at third level. All members of the teaching staff have received in-service training in Dublin City University (DCU). A number of staff members attended training in LEGO Mind storms and in the Digital Hub. Overall, the teachers are eager and innovative and have enhanced the teaching and learning in Science for pupils in the school. An after-school science workshop takes place each Wednesday under the guidance of the science co-ordinator and other staff members. The school is involved in an after-school club funded through the SCP where the pupils receive a healthy snack, do their homework and engage in fun activities such as art, computers, cookery or table tennis. A number of staff members use the interactive whiteboard very creatively and frequently in their teaching. The interest in this resource has led to the installation of four boards in the school.

 

A science fair was organised in June 2007 where the various classes displayed experiments undertaken by their class during the year. This proved a huge success and many displays were photographed and are available for viewing on the school’s website. Pupils have visited the science festival in Trinity College and this has enhanced their learning in Science. Teachers have devised apt science trails to suit the age cohort of pupils in their care. The staff members have conducted an environmental audit and it is recommended that the school makes further use of the habitats in its environs. The school participates in the Heritage in School scheme and in National Tree week. The pupils in the school undertook a fieldtrip to Sutton beach which is featured in the Marine Dimensions website. Some pupils visited W5 in Belfast which proved a great success.

 

The science co-ordinator purchases equipment, updates materials, promotes science in the school, arranges participation in science events and gives curricular support to teachers. The provision of resources for science is commendable as is evident from the various initiatives undertaken by the staff and pupils. Resources are arranged in plastic containers according to strands of the curriculum and are easily accessible. There is very good provision for “hands on” activities and the involvement in the DPS initiative has proven very beneficial. There are limited opportunities at present to plant in the school grounds but the creation of a school garden would give great potential for all classes to involve themselves in such endeavours.

 

2.2 Resources for Mathematics

The principal and staff are very conscious of the importance of providing a wide variety of mathematical equipment and illustrative materials to allow for as much hands-on experience as possible for the pupils in their learning. A comprehensive list of resources is included in the school plan and at the beginning of each school year this list is added to as required and various pieces of equipment may be replaced or repaired. Certain materials are stored centrally in a large learning-support area in the school which is readily accessible to all teachers. The classrooms incorporate mathematics-rich environments, encompassing mathematical areas that display posters, charts and providing materials to which the pupils need immediate access. The school is especially commended for the provision of ICT software and hardware for the teaching of Mathematics and for promoting access to useful websites for mathematical themes and games. The four interactive whiteboards that have been acquired by the school have enabled teachers to promote a fresh approach to the teaching of Mathematics and the pupils themselves indicate very commendable ease in the use of this new technology. The school building is relatively large and attractive and its immediate environs are conducive to the conduct of mathematical trails at appropriate times during the course of the year. In this regard, signage of a mathematical nature in the school building and the provision of number lines and mathematical games on the play area surface enable teachers consolidate work covered in the mathematics programme.

 

3. Quality of whole -school planning in Science and in Mathematics

 

3.1 Whole-school planning in Science

The school plan for Science is detailed and comprehensive and was devised collaboratively by the staff under the leadership of the science co-ordinator. It outlines the aims of the school very succinctly. The school adheres to the School Development Planning Support (SDPS) guidelines when formulating its policies. The science policy is laudable. It outlines clearly the methodologies, the timetable, the content, the resources, the linkage and integration possibilities, use of the environment and differentiation approaches in use in the school. It includes various trails formulated in the school, assessment tools to be used and staff development initiatives. The school plan echoes the very positive approach to Science in the school.

 

The school has adopted a number of commendable assessment approaches to the collection and use of assessment data. The majority of teachers use teacher observation, brainstorming, discussion and questioning successfully in their assessment of pupils. However, all teachers need to plan for assessment to ensure that a variety of tools is used successfully during the year. The use of concept cartoons and concept mapping are two approaches used effectively in some classes. The greater use of such tools is recommended. In some classes, pupils use a scrap book to record experiments conducted in class. These practices are highly commended. The use of the interactive whiteboard with questions at the conclusion of lessons is a very valuable tool used effectively by a number of teachers. Textbooks are not used in some classes; instead teachers use carefully selected materials from a variety of sources and this is commended

 

3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics

The school plan for Mathematics which was drawn up by the principal and staff in the 2003-2004 school year is continually under review. It embodies the elements of comprehensive whole school planning and includes purposeful and well-considered statements on teaching methodologies, use of resources, differentiation and assessment.  The statements on teaching methods, including talk and discussion, collaborative and co-operative learning, skills through content, problem solving, active learning and discovery learning, the use of the environment, and use of mathematical games are particularly helpful. Staff development, parental involvement and homework are all addressed to good effect in the school plan. The implementation of the whole school plan is facilitated by the learning-support teacher for Mathematics and the special education team in conjunction with the principal.  

 

A review of the standard of numeracy in the school which will be ongoing for the period 2006-2009 was undertaken during the last school year, arising from the school’s participation in DEIS. As a result of the initial review the teachers felt that whole school planning for Mathematics should include better utilisation of assessment test results, more work on problem solving, greater use of the environment to make mathematics real for the pupils, more emphasis on differentiation with particular reference to the more able pupils, more emphasis on the provision of learning support in the subject and the need to have a common approach to teaching methods relating to the acquisition of number facts and to computational procedures. In this regard there is also increased emphasis on promoting neatness and accuracy of presentation of the pupils’ written work in Mathematics. All of the above matters have been incorporated into this year’s school plan for Mathematics. The principal and staff are commended for the realistic and professional manner in which they are approaching the challenge of improving numeracy standards in the school.

 

3.3 Child protection policy and procedures

Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 006/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation has also been provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that the management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

3.4 Classroom planning in Science

All teachers prepare both long-term and short-term plans for their teaching. The quality of preparation varied both in terms of written preparation and in presentation of the classroom. It is recommended that all teachers plan according to the content objectives of the curriculum and plan for methodologies, resources, assessment, differentiation, linkages and skill development. Most teachers need to expand the list of possible resources in their long-term plan. The focus of monthly reports to date has been on the content taught with insufficient attention to skills. It is recommended that all teachers maintain monthly progress reports in which the knowledge and the skills are documented. The majority of classrooms boasted a science investigation table and it is recommended that all classes include an investigation table to enable the pupils engage in discovery learning in a particular subject over a number of weeks. This leads to independent learning and the development of skills in the process.

 

3.5 Classroom planning in Mathematics

The fact that the teachers plan very carefully for the teaching of Mathematics is indicated at a number of different levels. The display of attractive wall charts, both commercial and teacher-produced and the provision of a wide variety of concrete materials and of ICT packages are very important elements of good planning. Also, it is evident that the school plan for Mathematics impacts strongly on the teachers’ long-term and short-term written preparation. The teachers plan together collaboratively where appropriate and there is a consistency of approach across classroom planning generally. The important areas of content, methods, use of resources, differentiation, integrations and assessment are given due attention and are listed in a template format. Most teachers keep detailed records of pupils’ progress in Mathematics over the year and use pupil profile forms related to the textbook series. The results of standardised tests which are administered in May each year are retained securely. The teachers maintain monthly accounts of work completed. 

 

4. Quality of learning and teaching in Science and Mathematics

 

4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science

The overall quality of learning and teaching of Science in St Eithne’s GNS is very good. Pupils are exposed to all strands of the curriculum. There is very notable work undertaken in the strand of Living Things and Environmental Awareness and Care. The involvement in the Green Schools project adds to the quality of the education provided in this later strand. The content is integrated very creatively and successfully. The teachers adopt a wide range of teaching methodologies to make the content of the science curriculum both stimulating and engaging. The school engaged in a Low Energy day which proved successful.

 

Lessons are well-structured and paced appropriately. The use of the concept cartoon, concept mapping and the interactive whiteboard have added significantly to the quality of learning and teaching in the senior classes. The pupils’ life experiences and ideas are used very effectively as the starting point for lessons. The teachers use brainstorming and What I Know, What I Want to Learn and What I have Learned (KWL) which are being used both as a teaching methodology and as an assessment tool. The pupils display a keen interest in lessons and participate willingly in all activities. They are challenged adequately by lesson content and the teachers are commended on the high level of preparation to ensure variety and interest throughout the lesson. Due emphasis is given to both pair work and group work. There is very good provision for the development of the skills of working scientifically. However, it is recommended that the school considers further possibilities for the development of the skills developed through designing and making. The school itself is very well presented as a scientific environment. The notice board dedicated to science is praiseworthy and the overall attention to planting indoor plants and bulbs is commendable. The addition of a school garden as is planned for later in the year will add enormously to the pupils’ experiences. All of teachers have created classroom environments that facilitate work in the subject. Samples of pupils’ work such as experiments and diagrams are displayed creatively in the classrooms and on corridors. The displays noted in the majority of classrooms deserve merit and therefore it is recommended that all teachers create a classroom environment that celebrates the language of science and associated activities in the school. Pupils are taught in settings appropriate to the lesson and pupils’ needs. All the teachers manage the pupils’ behaviour and application in tasks very effectively.

 

As part of this evaluation, two sets of tasks were administered to the pupils in a number of classrooms. The first set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ conceptual knowledge. In the Living Things strand, the majority of the pupils assessed in the junior end and almost all of the pupils assessed in the senior end displayed mastery of the concepts tested in Human Life and in Plant and Animal Life. In Environmental Awareness and Care, the majority of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested. In the Materials strand, most of the pupils confirmed mastery of the first section while the majority of the pupils assessed verified mastery of the second section. Overall pupils displayed competence in the area of conceptual knowledge.

 

The second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ procedural knowledge. Fewer than half of the pupils at the junior end of the school displayed mastery of the knowledge and skills required by the task while a few of the pupils in the middle and senior classes established mastery of the knowledge and skills required by the task. In conclusion, these tasks required planning and preparation for investigation tasks rather than carrying out an investigation. On the evidence of the pupils’ responses to tasks, it is recommended that teachers in the middle and senior classes plan the experiments with pupils in advance of the investigation. Pupils will therefore be more actively involved in the planning and preparation stage and related procedures and should therefore be competent in planning for fair testing.

 

4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics

The comprehensive planning and preparation that the teachers engage in for Mathematics are well reflected in the quality of teaching. There is a very commendable sense of freshness of approach and a willingness to try new methodologies and ICT in evidence throughout the school. The in-class support work of the learning-support teacher and of the principal in conjunction with the work of the classroom teachers underpins the whole school approach to seeking to improve the attainment standards of the pupils. The teachers are very familiar with the mathematics curriculum and with the associated teacher guidelines. They provide mathematical experiences for their pupils which allow them to be actively involved in their learning, using equipment and materials where appropriate. There is good emphasis on talk and discussion and on teaching common procedures in relation to such matters as the memorisation of number facts and computational work. The importance of linking the various strands of the curriculum for consolidation and revision purposes and integrating Mathematics with other areas of the curriculum is well understood by the teachers generally. However there should be even more sustained efforts to show connections across the mathematics curriculum so that pupils can reap the benefits of linkage. In general the programme is well differentiated to meet the needs of all pupils and accurate records are kept on the pupils’ progress. Nevertheless further work on setting attainment targets for individual pupils across ability levels should be considered. The pupils are gaining very good experience in working in groups and are being well trained in presenting neat and accurate mathematical work in their copies.

 

In the six classrooms visited from second to sixth class, the pupils experienced well planned and skilfully delivered lessons. The lessons encompassed themes such as the exploration, identification and construction of three dimensional shapes, early concepts relating to the multiplication process, computation and problem solving with money, positive and negative whole numbers and data representation. Three teachers made presentations by way of the interactive whiteboard and made very good use of appropriate programmes downloaded from websites. In all classes the pupils engaged very well with their teachers and generally displayed good levels of confidence in their work. They responded well to oral questions and short written tests presented by the inspector involved in the evaluation. They performed well in relation to formal computation exercises and indicated good knowledge of the appropriate number facts. Good progress is being made by pupils generally throughout the school in understanding the place value system and whole and fractional number structure.

 

The pupils enjoyed their mathematical activities and the work of the various class groupings on the construction of three dimensional shapes, on the use of the number line in the schoolyard to develop fuller understanding of positive and negative integers and on the differentiated tasks assigned to the study of the real life issue of pupil attendance was particularly impressive. Pupils in other classes enjoyed playing the role of teacher in the conduct of multiplication exercises and handling money to assist them in their efforts to solve problems. The pupils also enjoy the Maths for Fun sessions which involve parents and teachers working with them to exploit mathematical possibilities in games. 

 

The principal and staff in this school are very committed to raising the numeracy standards of their pupils and their work on self-evaluation is very commendable. Standardised tests, namely the Drumcondra Primary Mathematics Tests, indicate a wide spread of ability among pupils with a disproportionate number of pupils achieving at the lower end of the scale. Having reflected on these attainment results the staff has, as already mentioned, prioritised certain areas of endeavour. The teachers have redoubled their efforts to make Mathematics as attractive as possible for the pupils, particularly in learning number facts and in computational work. They are admirably concerned that all pupils achieve, even the least able, a certain appropriate level of success in their work. In this regard the classroom teachers, in conjunction with the learning support teacher for mathematics, are differentiating the programme to cater for the needs and interests of all pupils. An even greater attention to the revision of the work covered, to the linkage of objectives across the strands of the curriculum and to the setting of specific targets for individual pupils, insofar as this is possible, would be of assistance in raising overall standards in the school.

 

4.3 Quality of supplementary teaching for pupils in Mathematics

This year a learning support/resource teacher works for fifteen hours with pupils who need supplementary teaching in Mathematics. The teacher also works with a small number of pupils with low incidence special needs. She collaborates very closely with the principal and members of staff to provide a very admirable level of support for her pupils. She is very skilled in the use of ICT and has an interactive whiteboard in her learning-support area. She makes very good use of the latter facility to ensure that the support work in Mathematics is as attractive and as meaningful as possible for the pupils. The learning support/resource teacher also very commendably provides in-class support for her pupils. Standardised tests are used to determine the number of girls in second class who are entitled to support teaching in Mathematics. The teacher devised her own diagnostic tests for her work and has drawn up very suitable programmes of work for her pupils. She has devised Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for those with low incidence special needs and group profile and learning programmes for learning support pupils. Consideration might now be given to drawing up Individual Profile and Learning Programmes (IPLPs) for all pupils availing of supplementary teaching in Mathematics. The supplementary teaching as observed both within the class and in the support room is of a very high order and there is admirable attention devoted to instilling in pupils a love of Mathematics and to developing their self-confidence. The teacher plans to avail of training in the Maths Recovery intervention in the near future.

 

The school also has a special class for pupils with low incidence special educational needs. The teacher of this class provides individual programmes in Mathematics for all the pupils and has drawn up IPLPs in consultation with parents. The programme in Mathematics is diversified to meet the needs of these children who are of different age levels. The pupils are actively engaged in their work and the teacher ensures that the programme of learning in Mathematics is related to their social needs. The pupils respond very well to the care and direction of the teacher and their recording of mathematical work is commended in particular. The teacher is ably assisted by a special needs assistant. A resource teacher for Traveller children who is shared with another school provides support for a small number of pupils. There is much emphasis on hands-on experience and on enabling the pupils to talk about their mathematics. The pupil observed was responding very well to one-to-one support being provided by the teacher. An English language support teacher who provides assistance for a small number of newcomer pupils assists these pupils by way of explaining mathematical terms where appropriate. This intervention is very much in line with the whole school plan which places particular emphasis on the language of Mathematics and is commended

 

5. Future development of Science and Mathematics

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         Overall, the staff is enthusiastic and committed and displays expertise in a number of areas pertinent to the evaluation such as ICT and the design of the school garden.

·         The school has comprehensive school plans for both Science and Mathematics.

·         The standard of learning and teaching in both Mathematics and Science is very good.

·         The school is highly commended for its involvement in a number of science initiatives and projects and the celebration of science in the school.

·         The school is especially commended for the provision of ICT software and hardware for the teaching of Science and Mathematics and for the provision of useful websites for themes and for associated games.

·         The comprehensive planning and preparation that the teachers engage in for Mathematics are well reflected in the quality of teaching.

·         The level of support for pupils with learning difficulties in Mathematics is very good.

·         The school’s website is commendable and the school makes very creative and effective use of ICT resources in particular interactive whiteboards.

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

  • It is recommended that all teachers plan in Science according to the content objectives in both their long-term and short-term plans and that they plan more comprehensively for both assessment and integration.
  • It is recommended that there is a balance throughout the year between working scientifically and design-and-make activities.
  • It is recommended that there is more of a focus on Energy and Forces and that it is linked to the energy theme in the Green Schools project.
  • There should be even more sustained efforts to show connections across the mathematics curriculum so that pupils can reap the benefits of linkages.
  • It is recommended that the setting of attainment targets for individual pupils across the ability levels be further advanced.

 

Conclusion

The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science wishes to acknowledge the contributions made by the principal and teachers during the course of the evaluation. It is hoped that this report will be directly useful to the school as a basis for review and development of practice at school level. It is anticipated that the composite report on the quality of teaching and learning of Science will serve as a valuable reference at system level and will inform the further development of policy and provision for the teaching of Science.


 

 

 

Appendix

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report

The school community welcomes this report on the quality of teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in our school. The staff found it to be a positive and informative process. We would also like to state that the evaluation was conducted in a thorough, professional and courteous manner.

 

 

Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the   inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

·         Work on the school garden has commenced and a gardening club has been established.

·         In line with the recommendations, we plan to incorporate a greater variety of assessment tools in our long and short term planning for Science with particular emphasis on Design & Making.

·         Beginning September 2009 teachers will state skills learnt in Science as well as content. This will be reflected in the Cuntais Miosiul.

·         The staff do appreciate the value of having investigation tables in each classroom and strive to provide same, space permitting.

·         Re. performance of pupils in scientific tasks, the staff would recommend that they are administered earlier in the day to ensure optimum performance.

·         We have continued to focus on Energy and Forces and this was acknowledged recently by the acquisition of our second green flag for conservation of energy.

·         We would welcome support re. the recommendation that there should be more connections/linkages across the mathematics curriculum.

·         The staff agree that all pupils attending Learning Support for Numeracy should have an I.P.L.P. and are moving towards this goal for 2008/2009. 2007/2008 was the first year of" Stand alone" support for Numeracy. G.L.P's were seen as most appropriate for this initial phase.