An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Burrow National School
Roll Number: 09642P
Date of inspection: 28 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
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 pupils’ achievement in these curricular areas. This evaluation identifies and affirms good practice, and makes recommendations for the enhancement of pupils’ learning experiences and levels of achievement.
Two inspectors were involved in the evaluation in Burrow National School. 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Burrow National School is located in Sutton, Co. Dublin. The school has an administrative principal, eight mainstream class teachers, a resource teacher and learning-support teacher. At the time of the evaluation there were 215 pupils enrolled in the school. The school staff also includes two full time special needs assistants and a part-time special needs assistant, a secretary, a caretaker and a cleaner. The school is very active in communicating with parents and the wider community. Parents are regularly informed by way of newsletter of school activities and developments. The school has a parents’ association which is highly supportive of the school.
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.
2.1 Resources for Science
The school approaches the provision of resources for Science in a very creative, comprehensive and commendable manner. It has an extensive range of science resources which are appropriately chosen for all strands of the curriculum. These resources are easily accessible, being stored in a central location in an organised manner. In particular, the school has made excellent provision for ‘hands on’ resources which are designed to promote active pupil involvement and experimentation in science lessons. The school has a science co-ordination team which is responsible for auditing, maintaining and ordering science equipment and materials. In so doing, this team actively liaises with other members of staff. Although the school already has a considerable selection of resources for the Heat, Magnetism, Sound and Materials strands of the science curriculum, it is recommended that further resource provision in these strands be considered.
The school uses its grounds as a valuable resource for science trails and for learning about Living Things. In particular, teachers make very good use of the grounds to study plant growth. The school also avails of some of the nearby scientific environments and habitats such as St Anne’s Park, the local beach and Bull Island. Despite the limited opportunities for planting on the school grounds, some teachers have succeeded in planting flowers and some vegetables in the general school environs. In building on such commendable endeavours and in recognition of the many varied forms of plant experiments evident in the school’s classrooms, it is recommended that the school considers further possibilities for the establishment of a school garden. The school also organises a wide number of other field trips which serve to promote and enrich pupils’ curiosity and interest in Science. For example, trips are organised to the Coca Cola factory, science festivals, the Young Scientist Exhibition, the zoo, chemistry workshops, peat bogs, Fota Wildlife Park, the B.A. Festival of Science, W5, ENFO, Straffan butterfly farm and Newbridge farm.
The school does not have a specific person responsible for the co-ordination of Science, rather it has a science team, comprising three of the teaching staff. This team is responsible for auditing and updating the school’s resources for science. It also makes regular reports at staff meetings and acquires suggestions and ideas at these meetings for future developments. The school is proactive in encouraging teachers to attend professional development courses in the area of science. A number of teachers have attended courses which enrich their teaching of Science and the overall school approach to the teaching of Science. One of the school’s teachers has been trained in the ‘Discover Science’ programme. This commendable programme is adopted widely throughout the school. It aims to develop creativity in children and endeavours to show pupils how Science can be fun and how it is related to everyday life. The school also avails of the services of a number of outside speakers and resources. For example, the ‘Science Bus’ visits the school on a yearly basis.
The school is very active in a wide number of scientific initiatives and projects. The school’s involvement in the Hermes ICT Project is highly commendable. This project provides pupils and teachers with a wide range of highly stimulating and engaging information and communication technology (ICT) resources. Training has been provided for all of the school’s teachers. Having a suite of thirty computers and the services of a very enthusiastic and committed Hermes co-ordinator, the school makes excellent use of a wide number of teacher-designed science lesson plans along with interactive science software. In so doing, teachers develop pupils’ skills of analysis and encourage them to research independently.
2.2 Resources for Mathematics
The school has a wide array of resources and equipment to support the teaching and learning of Mathematics in all strands of the curriculum. Resources are stored centrally, are labelled and are easily accessible. All classes benefit from the use of appropriate concrete materials during lessons. Target boards, brainteasers and tangrams are used to good effect in the middle classes. Early mathematical activities are well explored at infant level as pupils have lots of opportunities to engage with meaningful materials on a regular basis. A range of activities, games, stories and rhymes is used to support learning in the early years. The school makes very effective use of software and hardware from the Hermes ICT project. In particular, teachers make effective use of class lessons in Mathematics which are available through this on-line ICT project. Members of staff are commended for creating worksheets and materials using computer software. Some class teachers make excellent use of the data projector and the overhead projector to present interesting lessons. It is recommended that these beneficial tools be utilised on a more widespread basis throughout the school. There is an interactive white board in one of the learning support rooms and consideration is being given to further investment in such boards.
Teachers are continuously updating resources. Members of staff discuss useful resources and report to the mathematics co-ordinator who arranges the purchasing of additional materials and resources. The parents’ association and the board of management are highly supportive of any additional resources that are deemed necessary to support teaching and learning. Some teachers use the school grounds during the teaching of Mathematics. It is recommended that further opportunities be investigated to develop ‘Maths Trails’ within the school environment. All pupils participate and benefit equally from the materials and resources. Senior pupils use calculators, games and equipment to help them in their learning. All teachers have a dedicated area for Mathematics in their classroom. Most teachers use a variety of teacher-designed posters and commercially produced posters and materials.
3.1 Whole-school planning in Science
The school has created a very detailed and comprehensive school policy for Science. The policy has been created in accordance with the key principles of the Primary School Curriculum. It outlines the aims of the science programme, approaches to linkage and integration, criteria by which to judge success, differentiation approaches, resource considerations and planning guidelines. In particular, the policy’s outline of pedagogical approaches and the tailoring of content and methodologies to the unique context of Burrow NS are especially commendable. The policy makes very suitable provision for the roles of various staff members in its implementation and for staff development initiatives. In so doing, the policy clearly outlines criteria for equality of access and for safety considerations.
3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics
The whole-school plan for Mathematics is comprehensive, providing detailed guidelines and procedures for the implementation of the curriculum at all class levels. The plan is a superb resource for all staff, prioritising staff development and offering a clear guide to curriculum planning for any new staff member. There is evidence that a collaborative approach was adopted in drafting and formulating the plan. In so doing, the school has made very effective use of the School Development Planning Support service. The plan facilitates progression and development in the pupils’ knowledge from class to class, with a clear outline of mathematical language at each class level. A range of teaching approaches has been outlined, such as talk and discussion, collaborative learning, active learning and problem solving. These teaching approaches are accompanied by approaches to the use of resources, most notably the use of ICT and calculators. These approaches also make appropriate provision for differentiation strategies. The plan includes evidence that the differentiation of teaching for pupils with learning needs and special educational needs has been discussed and explored. A coherent and systematic approach to pupil assessment is articulated in the plan. There is scope for further delineation of linkage across the different curriculum strands. It is recommended that in reviewing the plan, greater consideration be given to approaches to linkage and integration.
3.3 Classroom planning
All class teachers complete short-term and long-term plans in their planning for the teaching of Science. In creating these plans, teachers write termly, weekly and or fortnightly notes to guide teaching and learning in their classrooms. Teachers’ long-term plans outline lesson content in a very structured and progressional manner. These plans clearly outline aims and objectives with provision in some cases for methodological approaches, differentiation and integration. Short-term planning throughout the school is good. Teachers make a very clear outline of the key content to be covered. Teachers are highly commended for the diligent manner in which they also complete daily notes. In the senior classes, pupils do not have a science textbook. Rather, teachers approach lesson content in a thematic way, using different textbooks and a variety of other sources as supporting resources. Such an approach is highly commended as it avoids lesson content being derived and dictated by the confines of textbook objectives. It is recommended that the school considers wider possibilities for the adoption of such approaches. In some cases, teachers detail differentiation, integration and methodological approaches in their short term and long term plans. It is recommended that such commendable approaches to planning be extended to all aspects of teachers’ planning. All teachers complete a monthly progress report. The school has recently adopted a number of commendable approaches to the collection and use of assessment data. With regard to Science, teachers adopt a wide variety of approaches to assessing pupil progress, with teacher observation and teacher designed tasks being the most prevalent of such approaches. In some classes, each pupil creates a science portfolio book. Such practice is highly commended.
Teachers’ long-term and short-term planning in Mathematics makes very good provision for the outline of content. This content is delineated in a progressional and sequential manner. Teachers’ plans make appropriate provision for delivery of this content, with some plans outlining creative strategies and methodological approaches for such delivery. In a number of cases, teachers’ plans make very definitive reference to approaches for assessment, differentiation and integration. It is recommended that the school considers more widespread adoption of such approaches to planning.
4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science
Overall the standard of teaching and learning in Science is very good. Pupils are exposed to a wide variety of scientific concepts and phenomena arising from all strands of the curriculum. Commendable work is being undertaken on strands associated with Energy and Forces, Living Things, and Environmental Awareness and Care. Good provision is made for the ‘Materials’ strand, with some commendable work being noted in a number of classrooms. It is recommended that the school examines further approaches to building on such work and to developing more extensive school-wide provision for this particular strand. The content of science lessons is integrated very creatively and successfully on a cross-curricular basis, most notably with subjects such as Mathematics, English and Visual Arts. Teachers adopt a wide number of teaching methodologies and approaches to make the content of science lessons both stimulating and engaging. Such approaches involve the use of whole class teaching and collaborative learning. Teachers make very good use of resources, most especially concrete resources to present lessons and to illustrate concepts. Children’s life experiences and ideas are used very effectively as bases for building lesson content and for concretising concepts. In so doing, teachers make appropriate use of talk and discussion to relate scientific concepts to everyday situations and to encourage pupils to develop their analytical skills. Pupils show a keen interest in science lessons and in scientific phenomena. They are challenged by lesson content and by the associated in-class activities. In this regard, teachers are highly praised for selecting and organising activities and experiments which involve a high degree of ‘hands-on’ pupil involvement and which serve to effectively develop and consolidate lesson content. In undertaking these activities and experiments, pupils’ skills in the areas of prediction, observation, investigation, estimation, measurement, analysis, sorting, classifying and recording are suitably developed. A number of teachers also develop the pupils’ skills in questioning scientific phenomena and in considering the factors associated with ‘fair tests’. It is recommended that the school considers further possibilities for the development of such skills.
The school itself is very well presented as a scientific environment. Teachers make excellent use of school grounds and of local habitats and environments to promote and develop the pupils’ interest in scientific phenomena and processes. All classrooms are very well presented in terms of scientific stimuli and resources with a wide variety of pupil work on display. A number of classrooms have science tables which develop the pupils’ investigative skills. Such provision is highly commended. It is recommended that the school considers wider possibilities for the use of such tables of interest. Some teachers have made very commendable and creative use of school and classroom environments to undertake planting exercises and to introduce the pupils to concepts concerned with plant growth. The school is commended for the regular participation of pupils and teachers in projects such as the K’Nex Challenge and the Green Flag and for the organisation of visits from experts from the field of science. These activities support the implementation of the curriculum as well as fostering an appreciation of the value of Science to society.
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 Living Things, the majority of the pupils assessed displayed mastery of the concepts tested in Human Life and in Plant and Animal Life. In Energy and Forces, the majority of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Heat and in Forces. All of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Electricity and Magnetism. Most of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Light. Most also demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Sound. All pupils mastered the concepts assessed in Environmental Awareness and Care. In the strand Materials, most pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Properties and Characteristics of Materials, while almost all pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Materials and Change.
The second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ procedural knowledge. In the senior classes, a few of the pupils displayed mastery of the knowledge and skills required by the task. In the middle classes, most of the pupils mastered the tasks. In junior classes, the majority of pupils mastered the tasks.
On the evidence of classroom observation and pupil responses to tasks, it is recommended that greater consideration be given to strands dealing with Heat and Forces and to concepts related to fair testing.
4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics
Mathematics lessons are very well structured and appropriately paced. Pupils reveal a keen interest in the subject and enjoy the challenging activities. All classrooms have a mathematics area where there is a range of posters and charts. The language of Mathematics is appropriately displayed in all classes. This approach serves to create a Maths-rich environment and serves to foster the pupils’ awareness of the subject. Teachers are effective in motivating pupils and in explaining the objectives of their lessons. The most common methodology used during the evaluation was direct teaching. Some classes availed of pair work and group work to complete activities as was evident during the games sessions. Planning for a variety of methodologies would assist in this regard. Good use is made of the school environment in some classes. However, this needs to be extended to all classes. Teachers employ a variety of effective resources to bolster lessons. In particular, there is due emphasis on the use of practical activities.
Overall, pupils are very competent in the strands covered to date. They prove knowledgeable when challenged and when asked to solve problems based on various topics. Pupils are adept at working at their own pace on supplementary materials such as workbooks. Such practice has proved very successful. Pupils display commendable knowledge of tables and facts. The senior teachers are commended on the innovative idea of recording key facts and meanings in a personal log/diary which is very beneficial to pupils when revising for teacher-designed tests. Pupils’ written work is carefully monitored. A variety of assessment modes is in use in the school. Pupils are tested twice yearly and records of pupils’ progress are meticulously maintained. Pupils are achieving well and assessment outcomes inform learning. The school has a number of pupils with special education needs. At present the school provides some in-class provision for these pupils. It is recommended that the school investigates further approaches to differentiating lesson content for these pupils. In so doing, the school should build on its group approaches to teaching Mathematics. This would allow better able pupils to work on more challenging activities while other less able pupils could work on material appropriate to their level. Planning for these group approaches should be undertaken in collaboration with the special education team.
4.3 Quality of support for pupils in Mathematics
The quality of learning support for pupils in Mathematics is very good. The special education team consists of a full-time learning-support teacher and a full time resource teacher. A comprehensive learning support policy coupled with detailed personal planning on the part of the team guides the superb educational provision for these pupils. The team is highly dedicated and committed to providing the best for their pupils. The policy incorporates the staged approach on learning support and special education. Early intervention strategies are in place in literacy. Most of the support is provided on a withdrawal basis while some support is provided in class. The school avails of the services of two full-time and one part-time special needs assistants. The Individual Profile and Learning Programmes (IPLPs) and the Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are devised in consultation with the various partners.
A range of multi-sensory equipment is used to support teaching and learning. ICT is used frequently in the support rooms. Teachers use Numicon, software, games, concrete materials and various packs and strategies to motivate pupils in their learning. Lessons are delivered in an attractive, creative and caring environment and pupils experience success in the subject. Teachers use talk and discussion and collaborative learning situations where possible to stimulate interest and enthusiasm for Mathematics. The support team integrates Mathematics with other areas of interest such as the Green school’s project and the school garden. Diagnostic tests are administered and results are recorded. Teachers use the results of standardised tests to monitor those pupils who may need support in the subject. The strengths of the provision include the dedicated interest of the support team, combined with a collaborative approach to providing quality support for these pupils.
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 staff and the chairperson of the board of management, 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.