An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
†Science and Mathematics 2007
Scoil Naomh Peadar
Moycarkey, Horse and Jockey, Thurles, Co. Tipperary
Roll Number:† 04005G
Date of inspection:† 15 March 2007
† Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science has undertaken an evaluation of learning and teaching in Science and Mathematics in a sample of schools nationally. This evaluation is the third in a series of thematic evaluations of aspects of the Primary School Curriculum and part of an ongoing review of curriculum implementation in primary schools. The evaluation focuses on learning and teaching in Science and Mathematics and on the quality of pupilsí achievement in these curricular areas. This evaluation identifies and affirms good practice, and makes recommendations for the enhancement of pupilsí learning experiences and levels of achievement.
Two inspectors were involved in the evaluation in Scoil Naomh Peadar. The evaluation involved observation of teaching and learning in different class settings, a review of planning and policy documents, and an evaluation of the progress of pupils, including those receiving learning support in Mathematics. A school questionnaire was administered and structured interviews with the principal and class teachers were conducted. Drawing on the evaluations undertaken in the schools nationally, the Inspectorate will publish a composite report on the quality of teaching and learning of Science in primary schools. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Scoil Naomh Peadar is a seven teacher rural national school under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Cashel and Emly. The school is approximately eight kilometres from Thurles town. The school caters for pupils from junior infants to sixth classes. On the 30 September 2006 there were 136 pupils enrolled. The enrolment is projected to increase in the future due to the expansion in population in Thurles town and hinterland. The staff comprises a teaching principal and four mainstream class teachers. A full-time learning support teacher and resource teacher provide support in the school for pupils with learning difficulties. A shared resource teacher for Travellers who is based in Littleton N.S., provides supplementary support for six pupils each week. Currently there is an imbalance in the pupil teacher ratios in some classes. It is recommended that pupil teacher ratios be adjusted to reflect a more equitable distribution of pupils throughout the school. A policy of staff rotation should also be considered in order that all teachers have opportunities to experience teaching classes at all levels within the school.
A positive school climate was in evidence during the evaluation period. The teachers work collaboratively and are committed to creating a learning environment that fosters pupilsí self-esteem and learning at a level appropriate to their age and ability. The principal displays many good leadership qualities. He has devised and implemented a range of administrative strategies that facilitate the effective running of the school. He has good interpersonal skills and uses these to communicate with the staff, members of the board of management and parents. The board of management should consider the employment of a part-time secretary during school hours to relieve the principal of administrative tasks during that time and ensure that he is not interrupted while attending to his teaching duties during the school day.
The school is commendably active in engaging with parents and the wider community. Parents of new infant pupils are invited to attend an induction meeting where information is provided in relation to the curriculum and routines in operation in the school. The Parentsí Association collaborates with the staff in organising this event. A monthly newsletter informs parents of school events and also provides updates on the development of the school plan. The principal reports that the school Parentsí Association is active in fundraising and in organising extra-curricular activities such as, engaging speakers for Parentsí Association meetings, drama, swimming, a sports day and in preparations for the St. Patrickís Day parade. The Parentsí Association also organises the book rental scheme and manages the purchase and distribution of tracksuits in the school. The Parentsí Association is to be commended for its support of the school in these activities.
There are four mainstream classrooms in the main school building. The general-purposes room in the main school building is in use as a staffroom/computer room. The school also has a small room that accommodates the learning support teacher. The resource teacher for Traveller pupils is based in the general-purposes room.† A prefabricated building was erected in recent years and accommodates an infant class and one resource teacher. The school also has the use of a large general-purposes room separate from the school building on the school grounds. The local community constructed this building for school use. The school building is well maintained and all windows have been upgraded. The school roof has also been replaced and the toilets and ceilings have been refurbished during the removal of asbestos from the school in recent years. The heating and lighting systems in the school are very effective. A caretaker is employed in the school on a full-time basis and the external environment of the school is very well maintained.
Each classroom is equipped with a range of resources. These include some mathematical equipment, library books and some concrete materials. Most of the computers in the school are deployed in the general-purposes room. Some of the resources in the school are stored centrally including the Science equipment in the general-purposes room.† There is scope for development in relation to the level of resources in the school to support the teaching and learning process in most areas of the curriculum. The Board of Management, at the time of the evaluation was applying to the Department of Education and Science to provide funding for an additional classroom, support teaching areas, storage areas and administration offices.
2.1 Resources for Science
With regard to physical resources, the school has a satisfactory range of equipment and materials for the teaching of Science. While the school has purchased a range of resources to support hands-on learning activities in the various strands of the Science curriculum, it was evident that continued investment is required in order that all pupils will have the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning experiences across all strands.
The schoolís immediate natural environment is a valuable resource for learning about Living Things. During the evaluation members of the staff commented that the environment is not used as frequently as it might be in the development of skills and knowledge. It is recommended that the school grounds be developed as a resource for learning in Science. This might include the planting of native trees, planning and the development of a school garden.
One of the mainstream teachers takes responsibility for Science in the school. She has purchased a range of equipment for the school. No specific responsibilities have been delegated to a post-holder in respect of the teaching of Science. In the future a post of responsibility might be dedicated to the teaching of Science in the school. The responsibilities attached to the post of Science co-ordinator should include developing, reviewing and implementing the Science plan as well as auditing and managing the Science equipment. It is recommended that this post be broadened to provide overall curricular leadership in Science. Responsibilities might include the co-ordination of the following activities: the development and use of the school grounds as a resource for learning, the use of textbooks, computer software and other classroom resources, participation in Science projects, sharing of knowledge and skills among colleagues.
2.1 Resources for Mathematics
The provision of resources for Mathematics in the school requires further development. All classrooms have displays of charts and provide number-rich environments. Some illustrative materials were on display in all classrooms. It is recommended that there be more widespread use of charts to support the pupilsí use of mathematical language. A range of basic equipment was in evidence such as cubes, lollipop sticks, a number of metre sticks and two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes. When concrete materials were used they were used effectively in supporting the learning process. It is recommended that a wider range of concrete materials be purchased in order that hands-on activities can be carried out more regularly during the teaching and learning process.
The potential of the schoolís environment as a resource for learning in Mathematics has not yet been explored. It is recommended that Mathematics trails be developed and used at all class levels.
3.1 Whole-school planning in Science
The school plan in Science was devised collaboratively by the whole school staff.† The work carried on the development of the plan to date is commendable. It was evident from the documentation available that staff-meetings are carefully monitored and there is evidence that due attention is paid to organisational and curriculum issues at these meetings. A member of the Primary Curriculum Support Team (PCSP) facilitated the development of the plan. An initial meeting was held with the PCSP co-ordinator in November 2006. All teachers were involved in this process and the plan was ratified at a board meeting in March of 2007. The school plan is based on the structure of the Primary Science Curriculum and its key emphases. The content of the plan will be delivered over a two-year cycle. A grid format outlines the timeframe for delivery, the strand units, the content and references to the curriculum documents and guidelines. The plan also contains itemised lists of resources available for use in each of the strands of the curriculum. It is recommended that the school plan for Science be reviewed, with a view to making it more specific to the needs and resources of Scoil Naomh Peadar and more useful in guiding classroom practice. It is recommended, for example, that the plan make reference to the learning experiences to be provided at each class level in each of the strands and the intended learning outcomes of these activities.
3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics
The school plan for Mathematics was developed initially by the teachers in 2003 with guidance from a facilitator. The plan was reviewed in June 2006. The plan outlines the vision statement, aims, content, key methodologies, skills, differentiation, assessment, record keeping and resources. Some specific strategies have been outlined in respect of the use of calculators, problem solving, teaching of certain number operations. The language associated with these areas has also been identified. The plan in its current state is outline in format. It requires further development that will provide individual class teachers with an overview of the strands, strands units and content objectives that will be taught at each class level. The learning experiences that will be provided at each class level should be outlined in order to ensure continuity and progression throughout the whole school. It is recommended that a review would make reference to the use of the school environment as a resource for learning in Mathematics. It is recommended, for example, that Mathematics trails be developed.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
3.3 Classroom planning
Overall, teachersí long-term planning is good. Long-term planning is linked to the strands and strand units and generally reflects the structure and language of the Primary School Curriculum. Short-term planning is based largely on the curriculum objectives and the textbooks in use. It is recommended that the content objectives from the curriculum be identified in writing in the short-term plans. These objectives should be specific and provide a specific focus for the teaching and learning. Monthly progress records are maintained by mainstream class teachers.
4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science
Science lessons were observed in living things, energy and forces, environmental awareness and care and materials with a focus on designing and making. In general, the lessons observed were well prepared and presented clearly. In general, good teaching was observed and this was characterised by teachers who used a range of methodologies including, group and collaborative work, individual instruction, the use of concrete materials, illustrative materials, talk and discussion, demonstration, pupils undertaking experiments and some investigative work. In some classes talk and discussion was the predominant methodology. While some activity based learning was observed in these classrooms, there should be a greater emphasis on children working scientifically. There was some evidence of investigative work in middle and senior classes and some pupils had a very good understanding of the language of Science. The development of Science investigation areas in all classrooms is recommended.
In the majority of the lessons observed the emphasis on science skills was limited to observing, predicting, estimating, recording, sorting and classifying. Most of the lessons were very structured and as a consequence there is little evidence that pupils can plan their own fair tests and experiments. It is recommended, however, that there be an increased focus on the development of the skills required in the exploring and planning stages of the process.
It is evident that the textbook plays a prominent role in the planning and delivery of lessons. Lessons in some classrooms would be improved if specific objectives from the curriculum and intended learning outcomes were identified in individual teacherís planning. It is recommended that a clear assessment policy be devised and implemented in order to monitor pupilsí attainment of concepts and skills in Science throughout the school.
As part of this evaluation, two sets of tasks were administered to assess the pupilsí conceptual and procedural knowledge. The first set of tasks was used to assess the pupilsí conceptual knowledge.
In the strand Energy and Forces, almost three-quarters of the pupils demonstrated an understanding of the concept tested in Light and Heat. One third demonstrated proficiency in the concept tested in Sound. Half the pupils demonstrated understanding in the concept tested in Forces. One quarter of the pupils demonstrated competency in their understanding of the concepts tested in Electricity and Magnetism. Almost all pupils had difficulties with the concepts tested in Materials. In the strand Living Things, over half of the pupils displayed a good understanding of the concepts tested in the strand unit Myself. Two thirds demonstrated a good understanding of the concept tested in Plant and Animal Life.
The second set of tasks was used to assess the pupilsí procedural knowledge. Less than half the children tested at all class levels displayed competency in the skills required by the task. Two fifths of the pupils in junior and senior classes had acquired the skills required by the task and only one third of the children in the middle classes demonstrated competence in these skills.†
On the evidence of classroom observation and pupil responses to tasks, it is recommended that greater consideration be given to the intended learning outcomes of lessons in Science and to the delineation of curriculum objectives for each lesson. Teachers should ensure that their class programme is in accordance with the objectives of the Primary School Curriculum and the school plan. Activities and resources should be chosen and used accordingly. It is recommended that opportunities to engage further in investigation, fair testing, and designing and making on a regular basis be planned for in the future.
4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics
The quality of the teaching in Mathematics in the school is good. A good range of teaching methods was observed, including, whole-class, team-teaching, group teaching, pair work and individual instruction. All teachers succeed in motivating pupils during the teaching of Mathematics. In general, lessons are well structured and paced appropriately. It is important to ensure in multi-class teaching that the range of pupilsí abilities is catered for through appropriate differentiation of the materials being taught. Good interaction was observed between teachers and pupils in all classes. In general, due emphasis is placed on the language of Mathematics. Concrete materials are in use in a limited way throughout the school, the extension of their use is recommended in all classes.
A limited range of illustrative materials pertaining to Mathematics was in evidence in all classrooms, including charts of the hundred-square, tables, fraction walls, two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional shapes. No areas of interest for Mathematics were observed during the evaluation. It is recommended that areas of interest in Mathematics be developed in all classrooms. These areas would provide a more focused approach to the display of illustrative materials and provide opportunities for pupils to engage in unstructured play with concrete materials. In all classes, pupils display a good knowledge of the work completed to date and show an ability to solve problems on the work done. There is good emphasis on consolidation and revision in all classes. A range of assessment strategies is used to track pupil attainment including, commercially produced Mathematics assessment test booklets, work samples, teacher designed tests and teacher observation. It is recommended that standardised testing be re-introduced, carried out on an annual basis and that the results of these tests analysed to enable teachers to plan programmes of work effectively.
4.3 Quality of support for pupils in Mathematics
Support is provided for 26 children in this school in literacy and numeracy. The three teachers involved in providing support are the learning support teacher and the resource teacher who are both based in this school. A resource teacher for Travellers who provides support for six pupils is based in Littleton N.S. The learning-support teacher provides support for four pupils in numeracy. She also provides in-class support in a team teaching capacity for pupils in second and third classes. The resource teacher is currently attending post-graduate training in the area of special educational needs. Her caseload is made up of eight pupils who are presenting with special educational needs. Both the learning support and resource teacher for Traveller children provide support in numeracy. Children are withdrawn on an individual and group basis. One IPLP is developed for individual pupils annually. This IPLP is reviewed in February each year. It is recommended that a second IPLP should be devised and implemented based on assessment data accumulated over the previous four months. The templates from the Learning Support Guidelines are used to write the IPLP. In general, teaching and learning provided is based on the topics being taught in the class. It is recommended that where individual pupils are being taught that discrete monthly programmes should be devised and that specific targets should be identified based on their individual learning needs. Ongoing liaison is carried out with class teacher and this practice is to be commended. Meetings with parents are organised and feedback provided on pupilsí progress. Newly revised standardised tests in Mathematics are being re-introduced in all the relevant classes this school-year. The Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) is carried out in senior infants and it is recommended that the pupils in junior infants be assessed using a test instrument such as the Belfield Infant Assessment Profile (BIAP). The testing of pupils will facilitate early intervention particularly for pupils who may be experiencing oral language difficulties. Pupils attaining less than the 10th percentile on standardised tests should receive individual daily supports.
It is recommended that monthly plans be devised for individual pupils that would identify specific short-term targets. Pupilís success in attaining these targets should be recorded in monthly progress reports.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation.
∑ There was a very positive school climate in evidence in the school during the evaluation process.
∑ Teachers work collaboratively in devising the school plan and the quality of whole-school planning is good.
∑ Pupilsí behaviour and application to tasks and their engagement in the learning process is good.
∑ The principal demonstrates good leadership skills
∑ The school achieves good standards in Mathematics.
∑ Most aspects of the teaching in Science are good.
∑ The school building and grounds are well-maintained.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made.
∑ A more investigative approach to Science should be adopted and the pupils provided with opportunities to engage in more open-ended science investigations regularly.
∑ Additional emphasis should be placed on consolidation, review and assessment in Science.
∑ Standardised testing in Mathematics should be re-introduced.
∑ Post-holders should be assigned curricular responsibilities particularly in Science and Mathematics and should, with the principal, review the implementation of the curriculum.
∑ The resources for Mathematics and Science should be extended.
∑ Integrated withdrawal for Traveller pupils is recommended
∑ There is a need to review the enrolment policy.
∑ It is recommended that pupil teacher ratios be adjusted to reflect a more equitable distribution of pupils throughout the school.
∑ Secretarial support should be organised to provide administrative support during the school day.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff, at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
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.