An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Sunday’s Well GNS,
Strawberry Hill, Blarney Road, Cork.
Uimhir rolla: 02707F
Date of inspection: 6 December 2007
An evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in Sunday’s Well 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 of the school 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.
Sundays Well GNS occupies a spacious site adjoining the Blarney Road on the North side of Cork City. The school shares its campus with the neighbouring boy’s school. The previous school report identified a growth in pupil numbers following considerable housing development in the area. However, this increase in enrolment did not materialise. The current enrolment is 140 and this represents a decrease of fifty-two pupils since the last school report was written in 1999. The staff were awarded “Band Two” status under the Department of Education and Science Developing Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme.
The staff comprises an administrative principal, six mainstream class teachers, one full-time learning support teacher, one resource teacher, who is shared with Kerry Pike NS and a language support teacher who caters for the newcomer children in the school. The Home School Liaison teacher is shared with, and based in the boy’s school. In addition, the school employs two special needs assistants, a part-time secretary, two part-time cleaners and a full-time caretaker who shares his duties with the boy’s school. The valuable contribution these ancillary staff members make is acknowledged. Their diligence and conscientious approach to school life adds considerably to its overall effectiveness. The school building is well maintained, the classrooms are bright and spacious and the corridors and display areas are utilised to maximum effect.
The social and educational welfare of the pupils admirably underpins the work of the staff. To this end, the staff seek to create a warm and caring environment in which pupils can feel secure and where confidence and self-esteem are fostered. The school aims to provide a quality of education for all pupils and also show sensitivity and tolerance to their diversity of circumstance.
The school maintains close and productive links with parents. Parents are met formally at meetings held in the period October/November and also informally, throughout the year, as concerns arise. Parents are supportive of the school in their involvement in fund-raising activities and in supporting school initiatives. Their involvement in activities such as the mathematics’ club and the urban renewal project, among others, is worthy of praise.
2.1 Resources for Science
Curriculum grants have been spent prudently in purchasing equipment in Science. The school has sufficient resources to facilitate hands-on learning across the various strands. Equipment and materials are stored in a central location, from which teachers borrow as needed.
The principal and staff are committed to developing the school grounds and its environs as a productive resource for Science. To facilitate this initiative, the girls and boys schools have joined forces to form a yard committee to develop the school grounds as a resource for learning. Co-curricular activity is a praiseworthy feature in complementing activity in Science. An external expert on the environment has been commissioned under the Irish National Teachers Organisation Heritage in Schools programme. He will involve pupils in planting and an environmental audit will be undertaken to develop further the pupils’ knowledge of plants and trees in the locality. A number of trails have been identified and these have been successfully explored to support learning in Science. Staff plan to introduce an after-school club in construction in the further development of Science, and this worthy initiative is welcomed. Visitors to the school are entertained regularly and their additional knowledge is productively utilised to enrich the pupils’ knowledge and to develop the teachers’ skill base. It is recommended that staff continues in its efforts to access useful training in Science and that the board of management encourages them in these worthy efforts.
Textbooks are used to varying degrees throughout the school. A number of teachers exploit them as a guiding resource in Science, while in other classrooms pupils use it regularly during learning activity. The school is determined appropriately, that textbooks are not relied on to an excessive degree in the delivery of Science.
Staff identify Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and its accompanying software as a valuable resource in the teaching of Science. Its potential is exploited to varying degrees throughout the school. The internet is readily accessed by teachers for research purposes and the digital camera is used effectively to give prominence to pupils’ work. ICT facilities are available in some classrooms and in the school’s computer room. Attractive learning environments are created in classrooms with displays of pupils’ work and illustrative material. Nature and investigation tables feature in most classes and add considerably to the learning environment, and this practice is to be encouraged throughout the school. The science coordinator is to be congratulated on the quality of display of pupils’ work in corridors and in assembly areas.
In a worthy effort to develop their skills, staff have participated in a number of professional development courses. These include attendance at in-service days, and participation in science related activities. The staff have availed of the support services for Science and this resulted in a focussed attention on the school environment as a resource for learning and in a renewed emphasis on conducting experiments in classrooms.
2.2 Resources for Mathematics
The staff is keenly aware of the need for pupils to be active and constructive in developing their understanding of mathematical concepts. To this end, the coordinator for Mathematics has engaged with principal and colleagues in promoting the assembly of a selection of items of mathematical equipment together with illustrative materials. This has resulted in most classrooms providing a number-rich environment and an attractive variety of useful learning materials. The various items are readily available either in classrooms or in a storage cupboard that is centrally located. Prominent in the schools’ collection of resources are clocks, jugs, number lines, abacuses, Dienes equipment, tessellation shapes and fraction boxes. These are being used to good effect throughout the school in facilitating the learning. Given the staff’s understanding of the value of activity learning it is readily accepted that the resources will be supplemented on a systematic basis in conjunction with the development of the school plan.
A science coordinator has been appointed and she is attentive to her assigned duties which are part of her responsibilities as special duties post-holder. In close cooperation with the principal and staff, she has re-drafted the plan for Science. She has also compiled a detailed inventory of available resources. In the further development of the coordinator’s role, management could usefully consider extending the role to include the elements of monitoring, implementation and evaluation.
The school plan outlines the staff’s strategy for the teaching of Science throughout the school. It is guided by documents provided by the Primary Curriculum Support Services (PCSP). The four strands of the science curriculum are covered over a two-year period. Specific reference is made to incorporating pupils’ ideas as a starting point for scientific activity, key methodologies, assessment procedures and the acquisition of knowledge and skills also feature. In the further development of the school plan, staff is advised to develop a conservation code that will guide activity in exploring the environment. Careful consideration could also be given to the inclusion of safety statement and a differentiated approach to learning in Science.
How the school plan informs individual teacher planning is not sufficiently clear. Staff might gainfully consider developing greater links between whole-school planning and the planning process at individual teacher level. It is also recommended that additional structures should be put in place to further ensure that the impact of whole-school planning on pupil learning is regularly reviewed through the development of specific written action plans to be implemented within agreed time frames. The DES publication Looking at our schools is designed to support this review process.
The school has prepared a school plan that embraces the central elements of the mathematics curriculum with its various strand and strand unit divisions. Appropriately, the plan was formulated on foot of a series of consultations between staff members and it is now being implemented methodically prior to a pending review. In its regard for the principles of the curriculum it highlights key elements such as skill development, problem solving strategies, intended approaches and methodologies and the development of mathematical language. The schools’ assessment strategies are outlined and reference is made both to standardized tests and those of a formative nature devised by individual teachers. These make a significant contribution to gauging progress and highlighting where consolidation of learning needs to be addressed. Progress in Mathematics and its recording have been a regular theme for discussion at staff meetings and particular attention has been devoted therein to the development of mathematics language and the promotion of consistency between teachers. These are important themes for the school and need to be accorded a high degree of prominence in the process of whole school planning.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also 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 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.
The quality of teachers’ long and short-term planning is good and serves as a useful guide to classroom activity. Objectives therein are duly referenced to Primary School Curriculum (1999) and its constituent strand and strand units. Commendable reference is made in most cases to key methodologies, to skill development and to a variety of assessment procedures.
The practice of using a common format to record monthly progress in the delivery of the curriculum is well established. In the further development of these records it is recommended that staff includes a greater measure of detail, so that growth in science skills and understanding of concepts can be identified with greater ease. The plotting of this information would make a significant contribution to the individual teacher’s planning of further experiences to match the pupils’ achievement levels. At staff meetings, the monitoring of the implementation of the science curriculum is discussed. Consideration could be given to utilising the monthly progress records as a monitoring tool for school plan implementation and ensuring there is continuity and progression from class to class.
The classroom planning for Mathematics is good and teachers’ short and long term schemes of work bear witness to a commitment to give effect to the school’s mathematics plan that clearly has been profitably influenced by the support services. The content of the lesson plans is directly referenced to the strands and strand units outlined in Primary School Curriculum (1999), and proves useful in identifying a wide range of suitable topics well geared to the ability of the various classes. It is clear that the textbook is seen as a primary focus for the preparation but it is pleasing to note that there is also evidence of a regular adaptation of the text to individual and group needs. This is seen in the regular production of worksheets that form a regular element of teacher planning and allow for a greater deployment of group and individual approaches. It emerges from discussion with staff that there is a critical awareness of the need to balance written tasks with oral language operations and this is a most welcome feature. As a theme for development within the context of the evolving school plan in the near future, it is recommended that in most classes a more detailed specification of learning objectives in the short-term plans should be produced. This would have the advantage of enhancing reflection on how the programme for the following days might be more successfully delivered and would have regard for the needs of the wide range of ability observed in most classes.
Lessons were observed in the four strands, with the strand Materials having a Designing and Making focus. The quality of teaching was good. Teachers employ a variety of methodologies that embrace whole-class teaching, group work and individual tuition, and there is a worthy emphasis on cooperative learning during hands-on activity. Their use of skilful questioning, together with explanation and instruction challenge pupils in developing higher-order thinking skills. They make a commendable effort to involve all pupils, regularly adapting their approaches to meet the needs of those less able, including those pupils with special education needs. Lessons are well constructed and developed at an appropriate pace. A productive rapport between teacher and pupils was in evidence in most classrooms, however, in some lessons observed, an increased level of teacher-pupil interaction would add considerably to effective learning for pupils. Careful attention is given to fair testing during experiments and a noteworthy emphasis is placed on reflective practice in some instances. Pupils would also benefit from an improved emphasis on the further development of the skills required in the planning elements of Designing and Making activities.
The pupils are well-mannered and responsive and are complimented on their collegial work practices during cooperative learning activity. They are enthusiastic for science, their scientific skills are developed systematically and scientific language is used appropriately during lessons. Indeed, activities in presenting their work to peers, contribute in no small way to the promotion of pupil confidence and to the development of self-esteem. The quality of work recorded in copybooks is of a high standard.
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 strand Environmental Awareness and Care, fewer than half of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Caring for my locality. In the strand Living Things, most pupils achieved mastery in Myself and fewer than half did so in the strand unit Plants and Animals. In the strand Materials, fewer than half achieved mastery in both Properties and Characteristics of Materials and in Materials and Change. In the strand Energy and Forces, the majority of pupils demonstrated mastery in Light and in Magnetism and Electricity. Fewer than half of the pupils achieved mastery in Forces, a few achieved mastery in Sound and a small number achieved mastery in Heat.
The second set of tasks administered assessed the pupils’ procedural knowledge. This test proved much more challenging and pupils experienced difficulty in achieving mastery. This suggests a concentrated emphasis be placed on developing the pupils’ skills in the designing of experiments, with a particular focus given to developing the pupils’ ability to plan fair tests and to the control of variables during planning activity.
In general, progress in Science is fair. Arising from the assessment tests it appears that there is scope for development in cultivating pupils’ procedural knowledge. The pupils achieve a creditable mastery of certain aspects conceptual knowledge, notwithstanding some difficulties experienced in a number of strand units.
The quality of teaching and learning in all classrooms is good and teachers are commended for their systematic delivery of a broad and balanced mathematics programme that is rooted in Primary School Curriculum (1999). An examination of scores obtained in standardised tests shows that some pupils are making impressive progress, but equally there are many whose achievements are very modest. There is a positive learning atmosphere in all classrooms, lessons are well paced and the pupils in general prove eager to engage with the teacher and visitor in addressing problem solving and computational challenges. Praise is used regularly to encourage and motivate, and hands-on activity constitutes a central element of most lessons. This is particularly evident in the Maths for Fun initiative with which the second and third class pupils engage with great enthusiasm under the guidance of collaborating members of school staff. Some parents are also enlisted to support this initiative and they interact with groups of four within class in an appropriately sensitive and purposeful fashion. Parents also play an important part in the after school mathematics club and here as in Maths for Fun their contribution is much appreciated. Whole class teaching constitutes the most common pedagogical approach of most teachers throughout the school but, in addition to the Maths for Fun scenario, there is also evidence in most classrooms of imaginative group work combined with individual attention for certain pupils who are significantly underachieving. This is praiseworthy and teachers are urged to consider how best they might extend the practice in a balanced way. An examination of written work establishes that on the whole pupils are set challenging tasks and this is reflected in many examples of neatly executed work that is conscientiously monitored. There is some evidence, however, that a small number of pupils need to proceed at a slower pace so that there is a better match of task with ability. It is likely that this challenge might be usefully addressed by a reappraisal of the school’s progress recording system that would have as a central aim the facilitation of higher levels of continuity and measured progression from class to class. A greater emphasis on the use of language as an instrument of learning would also be of benefit in this regard and especially so when allied to a determination to improve pupils’ problem solving ability.
The school plan contains policies on the admission, enrolment and participation of pupils with special educational needs. These are informative and in keeping with the schools’ caring ethos. The staged approach to assessment, identification and programme implementation bears witness to a praiseworthy determination to provide an appropriately challenging programme for those who are experiencing difficulty and underachieving. The role of the special education team, consisting of two learning support/resource teachers, is worthy of commendation in this regard. Of particular note are the individual education plans that are prepared on the basis of a careful diagnosis of needs: these are characterised by a useful degree of detail and relevance. Within this scenario, learning objectives are outlined within a specific timeframe for review and the work is undertaken in collaboration with class teachers and parents. It is a matter of some concern, however, that the primary thrust of the special education team is focused on literacy rather than on Mathematics. This has generated much unease but, given the proportion of pupils who are underachieving in reading, the team sees it has little option but to concentrate its efforts on literacy; and a contributory factor has been the substantial effort one team member has had to invest in the institution and maintenance of the Reading Recovery programme for the current school year. The matter of effecting an appropriate balance between the support available for mathematics and that for literacy has been discussed in some detail with the team, and emanating from the dialogue it is envisaged that the imbalance will be re-examined and a greater focus on mathematics provision will emerge. It is readily acknowledged that this constitutes a considerable challenge and that any rearrangement of timetable will involve a regrettable measure of compromise.
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:
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.
Published, June 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The Staff are in agreement with the content of the report. The Staff and Board of Management believe it is a fair representation of the areas examined. All appreciate the acknowledgement of success and effort, and welcome the constructive suggestions for improvement, which they are committed to putting into practice.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Follow up actions already undertaken since the inspection.
· A Whole Staff focus on Social Maths, e.g. Maths for fun in juniors / 2nd & 3rd every week.
· Monthly Whole-School focus on themes e.g. 1) Time in April, 2) Daily recording of weather station (Integrated Science)
· Major Investment in playground number games, recently launched on School Sports Day.
· Savings Stamps initiative made more relevant to class teaching, shop and home corners in classrooms.
· Expansion of our involvement in outside agencies e.g. Discover Science, Junior Achievement, and Heritage in Schools.
· Inservice e.g. First steps maths in innumeracy.
A concentrated effort by all staff to utilise teacher monthly reports as a tool for Whole-School Planning.