An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:

Science and Mathematics 2007

 

                                                                                                                                                REPORT

 

Saint Colman’s Boys National School

 

Percival Street, Kanturk,

County Cork

Uimhir rolla: 14052V

 

 

Date of inspection:  26 march 2007

Date of issue of report:  6 December 2007

 

Introduction

1. School background and context

2. Provision and use of resources

2.1 Resources for Science

2.2 Resources for Mathematics

Quality of school planning in Science and in Mathematics

3.1 Whole-school planning in Science

3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics

3.3 Classroom planning

4. Quality of learning and teaching in Science and Mathematics

4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science

4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics

4.3 Quality of support for pupils in Mathematics

5. Summary of findings and recommendations for the further development of Science and Mathematics

 

Introduction

The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science undertook an evaluation of the learning and teaching in Science and Mathematics in a sample of schools nationally. This evaluation was the third in a series of thematic evaluations of aspects of the primary curriculum and was part of an ongoing review of curriculum implementation in primary schools. The purpose of this evaluation is to provide information on the extent of curriculum implementation in Science. The evaluation will focus on the teaching and learning 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 teaching and the enhancement of pupils’ learning experiences and levels of achievement. 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.

 

 

Two inspectors were involved in the evaluation in St. Colman’s boys’ national school. The evaluation involved the 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 supplementary teaching 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.

 

 

1. School background and context

St. Colman’s BNS is situated in the North Cork town of Kanturk.  The school was founded in 1892. The school caters for boys from first to sixth class and pupils in the main are drawn from the town and its immediate environs. The staff comprises five mainstream class teachers, with one of these posts filled on a job sharing basis. In addition, there is a full-time learning support teacher and three shared resource teachers. The school also employs three special needs assistants, a part-time secretary and caretaker.  These ancillary staff members are effectively deployed and their diligence and valuable contribution in carrying out their duties is duly acknowledged. The current enrolment is 120 and this represents an increase of nine pupils since the last school report was written in 1999.

 

The school building is well maintained and emphasis is placed on utilising space productively wherever possible. As the classrooms are small, staff is restricted in its efforts to deliver a quality curriculum on a consistent basis. The board of management has documented a proposal for amalgamation of the boys’ and girls’ schools to the Department in the light of the inadequacy of facilities and the desirability of co-education.  The board feels that the needs of the pupils can best be served by providing a new school on a greenfield site.

 

The social and educational welfare of the pupils admirably underpins the work of the staff.  To this end, the school seeks to educate the whole child and to prepare them spiritually, morally, physically and academically for life. Co-operation, respect and a strong sense of community are encouraged. Also, a healthy attitude to sport is promoted.

 

The previous school report was written in 1999 and the staff has made a determined effort to develop further good practice in addressing the highlighted issues.

 

 

 

 

 

2. Provision and use of resources

 

2.1 Resources for Science

The purchase, storage and the replacement of resources for Science is creditably identified in the school plan and curriculum grants have been used judiciously to purchase equipment. The school has sufficient resources to support hands-on learning activities in the various strands of the Science curriculum. Equipment and materials are stored in a central location, from which teachers borrow as the need arises. A Science coordinator has been appointed and she is responsible for the ordering, auditing and managing of the Science equipment and materials. She exhibits an admirable enthusiasm for her duties. She is intent on developing Science on a continuous basis throughout the school. In close cooperation with staff, she has produced a comprehensive resource folder for Science that includes a detailed audit of the local environment and a detailed inventory of equipment currently available in the school.

 

Staff has identified  the locality as a productive resource for Science. A number of trails in the town have been researched and further work in this area is ongoing.  A school wormery is a feature of the school environment. Current restrictions of space limit the staff’s endeavours to exploit the potential of the school environs to develop the pupils’ knowledge and skills.  Equally, the old and cumbersome state of pupil desks do not allow for the cultivation of group work in an activity based setting.

 

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is recognised by staff as a valuable resource in the teaching of Science. Its potential is exploited to varying degrees by staff. It forms a central focus of the work being undertaken by some teachers but in the main its use is limited. Management has identified the lack of a broadband facility, dated machines and a limited amount of software as factors that inhibit the further development of this valuable resource. 

 

In a worthy effort to develop their skills, staff has participated in a number of professional development activities. These include attendance at inservice days and participation in summer courses. The staff has availed of the services of a cuiditheoir for Science, and this resulted in reviewing and updating the school plan. Visitors to the school are regularly entertained 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 this worthy endeavour. Parents are supportive of school initiatives in the assembly of materials for a variety of science initiatives.

 

2.2 Resources for Mathematics

 

The board of management recently appointed a co-ordinator for Mathematics, who in collaboration with the principal and staff has undertaken much impressive work in relation to the provision of materials and planning for this area. She has carefully sourced a wide range of very useful reference materials relating to the various strands of the curriculum and has effectively organised them in a comprehensive resource file. An audit of the resources available throughout the school has been completed and the results are usefully displayed in the staff room. It is evident that a good variety of mathematical equipment and games are provided in both mainstream and support contexts. Some mathematical trails have been developed and further work in this aspect of the curriculum is planned. The prominent display of materials, mathematical posters and charts in many mainstream and support classrooms greatly enhances the learning environment in these classrooms. Many high quality teacher made charts, designed to support pupils’ current learning were noted during the evaluation. This is commended. During the evaluation, skilful use was made of a range of resources including ICT, to present and consolidate mathematical concepts. It is particularly commendable that concrete materials were used very effectively in many classrooms. In the interest of promoting further improvement in pupil learning, it is recommended that existing good practice be maintained and extended through a regular updating of resources and the identification of whole-school strategies designed to optimise their use. In particular, it is recommended that in some classrooms a greater emphasis should be placed on the use of manipulatives to facilitate hands-on interactive teaching approaches.

 

 

3.Quality of school planning in Science and in Mathematics

 

 

3.1 Whole-school planning in Science

 

The teachers collaborate closely with each other and have succeeded in creating an environment that nurtures innovation and encourages the contributions of all staff members.  In this context, all staff members contributed to the development of the school plan for Science.  The plan was duly ratified by the board of management and was made available to parents. A period for review is set bi-annually.  The plan is guided by documents provided by the PCSP and INTO. The school plan outlines the knowledge the children will acquire and the skills that will be developed. Commendably, the plan outlines how the science programme promotes a balance between the acquisition of knowledge and skills. Further attention needs to be given to developing a system for the recording of pupils’ progress and development of skills and knowledge from class to class. The plan should also identify increased opportunities for pupils to engage in designing and making activities.  Staff also needs to clarify the role of the text-book in the teaching of Science on a whole-school basis. The four strands of the science curriculum are covered over a two-year period. While sufficient time is allocated for Science, consideration should be given to exploring a greater range of topics in the strand Environmental Awareness and Care.

 

A staff co-ordinator for Science has been appointed and she has undertaken commendable work in developing and reviewing the school plan. However, no specific responsibility has been assigned to her for the monitoring of its implementation. The role of curriculum co-ordinator should be extended further to include the elements of monitoring, implementation and evaluation. The potential for the school’s immediate environment is explored successfully and this is an area that is targeted for future development as a valuable resource for pupil learning. Staff recognises the importance of using pupils’ own perspectives as a starting point for scientific activity, and the key methodologies also feature. Structures are in place at staff meetings that allows for regular review and discussion and when needs are identified, an action plan is devised to ensure these needs are addressed.  Staff is advised to record the minutes of these meetings on a formal basis to ensure that management and staff are informed of current and future development needs.

 

Teacher observation, teacher designed tasks and tests and work samples are the identified as assessment strategies in Science. While Science is not featured in the school’s report card to parents, this practice is currently under review.

 

 

 

 

3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics

 

Commendable whole-school work in relation to the teaching and learning of Mathematics has been undertaken and the teachers deserve much credit for their dedication. They have collaboratively developed a worthwhile whole-school plan for Mathematics and this was reviewed on a school planning day in March 2006. This plan clearly draws attention to key aspects of the curriculum such as pupil skills to be developed, the learning goals for each class level and approaches and methodologies. It provides many useful guidelines for teaching and learning and there is much evidence of effective implementation of the plan. However, it is recommended that the approaches to assessment, record keeping and the provision of differentiated approaches should be reviewed with a view to extending existing good practice. Such a review should aim to provide additional guidelines for classroom practice and further develop assessment for learning on a whole school basis. It is also recommended that the impact of whole-school planning on pupil learning should be regularly reviewed by the development of specific action plans to be implemented within agreed time frames. In this context, it is recommended that the role of the mathematics co-ordinator should be extended to include monitoring the implementation of the curriculum, and that key decisions taken at staff meetings should be systematically recorded and copied to all members. The DES publication Looking at our schools is designed to support this review process.

 

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

 

All teachers prepare effective individual long and short-term plans for their classes in Mathematics and in Science, and detailed monthly progress records are maintained. These plans are characterised by high standards of detail and relevance. The teachers are commended for accessing a wide variety of source material in the planning of their programmes. Objectives therein are duly referenced to the school plan and to Primary School Curriculum (1999). Commendable reference is also made to key methodologies, to linkage and integration and to the development of pupil skills. At a variety of class levels, impressive work has been undertaken in planning key aspects of the work such as mathematical language, methodologies, strategies for estimation, problem solving and memorisation of number facts. In recognition of the spiral nature of pupils’ learning and in the interests of developing continuity throughout the school, it is suggested the monthly progress records be used by the teaching staff to ensure progression in the programme covered with the pupils.  This activity would also contribute productively to the review of classroom planning and to the implementation of the curriculum at different class levels.  

 

 

4. Quality of learning and teaching in Science and Mathematics

 

4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science

 

Science lessons were observed in the four strands, with the strand Energy and Forces having a Designing and Making focus. The quality of teaching was very good at all class levels. Impressive examples of differentiated teaching and integrated learning processes are features of classroom practice. Teachers give clear explanation to pupils, present content clearly and provide appropriate and structured learning activities. Lessons are carefully structured, well-paced and developed. In almost all classes pupils’ ideas are elicited at the start of the lesson and their ideas are successfully used to develop understanding. Commendable attempts are made to relate the activities to everyday situations that have relevance to the pupils. Teachers employ a variety of methodologies effectively in the lessons, most notably: working with concrete materials, talk and discussion, demonstration, experimentation and investigative work. Teachers are skilful in supporting pupils to develop higher-order thinking skills and pupils are suitably challenged. In some of the lessons observed, teachers allow pupils to devise their own way of working, choosing resources and problem-solving in groups. Regular engagement in open-ended investigations would further promote this worthwhile activity. Attractive learning environments are created with the provision of nature and investigation tables, samples of pupils’ work and illustrative materials, and this practice is to be encouraged on a whole-school basis. However the lack of sufficient space in a number of rooms does not allow for adequate display purposes.

 

Pupils exhibit considerable enthusiasm for Science. They are suitably challenged by the activities, and scientific language is used appropriately during discussion within group activity. Pupils’ scientific skills are developed effectively and, indeed, a number of pupils demonstrate an impressive competence in evaluating evidence and in drawing conclusions from their investigations and experiments. They have a clear understanding of what constitutes a fair test. Work is carefully recorded in copies. Teachers support pupils regularly to develop their skills in prediction, experimentation and recording. Appropriate materials are provided in Designing and Making activities and the pupils beneficially undertake the practical work in groups. However, the pupils would benefit from an improved emphasis on the development of the skills required in the planning of the activity.

 

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 Energy and Forces, the majority of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Forces, in Light, in Heat, and in Magnetism and Electricity. A few pupils demonstrated mastery of the concept tested in Sound. In the strand Materials almost all the pupils mastered the concept of Properties and Characteristics of Materials, while a few had developed mastery of the concept of Materials and Change. In Environmental Awareness and Care fewer than half the pupils achieved mastery in Environmental Awareness and in Caring for the Environment. However the majority of the pupils mastered the concept assessed in Science and the Environment.

 

The second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ procedural knowledge. This test proved to be more demanding for certain pupils: a small number achieved mastery in the senior classes and fewer than half the pupils mastered the skills in the junior classes. The majority of pupils achieved mastery of procedural knowledge in the middle classes.

 

In general, pupils are making good progress in Science. Arising from the assessment tests it appears that there is scope for development in cultivating pupils’ procedural knowledge.  Overall the pupils achieve a creditable mastery of conceptual knowledge, notwithstanding some difficulties experienced in certain strand units.

 

4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics

 

Very good practice in the teaching and learning of Mathematics was observed during the evaluation. A commendable emphasis was placed on mental mathematics. A wide range of strategies was used in many classrooms to enable pupils memorise number facts in an enjoyable manner. Much effective linkage of number work with other strands such as measures, shape and space was noted. Pupils were given worthwhile opportunities to consolidate concepts learned and apply them to a variety of other contexts based on their own experiences. In many classrooms a very good emphasis was placed on talk and discussion and on enabling pupils to use mathematical language appropriately. An emphasis on a problem solving approach and on developing pupils’ estimation skills featured prominently in many of the lessons observed. Very effective integration with other areas of the curriculum such as SESE was also noted. While many of the lessons observed placed a commendable emphasis on enabling pupils acquire concepts through hands-on approaches, there is a need to further develop the use of these approaches in some classrooms, particularly in the context of addressing pupils’ diverse learning needs.

 

Many pupils display good knowledge and understanding of key mathematical concepts. They respond well to oral questioning and display high levels of motivation and engagement during lessons. A very good emphasis is placed on encouraging them to record their work neatly and in an orderly fashion, and their work is regularly monitored. A variety of approaches to assessment was noted during the evaluation. Standardised tests are administered. Good work on the development of files to track pupil progress from one class level to the next was observed. At a variety of class levels, teacher-designed tests are regularly administered to monitor individual pupils’ acquisition of key concepts and skills, and parents are given the opportunity to view their children’s work. It is recommended that this good practice should now be further developed on a whole-school basis with a view to extending the emphasis on assessment for learning and further ensuring that assessment data is systematically used to inform planning and the provision of differentiated teaching and learning approaches. The importance of giving pupils feedback for improvement was beneficially highlighted and discussed during the evaluation.

 

4.3 Quality of support for pupils in Mathematics

 

Supplementary teaching is provided in both numeracy and literacy. However there has been a significant turnover in support staff this year. The special needs team currently consists of one full-time learning-support teacher, three part-time resource teachers and three special needs assistants. One resource teacher provides twelve hours teaching in this school and is shared with two nearby schools. Another teacher provides seven hours resource teaching and is also shared with nearby schools. A third teacher who provides language support for foreign national pupils also caters for the special needs of a small number of pupils for whom resource hours were recently sanctioned. The support teachers and special needs assistants work diligently to provide support for the pupils in their care and are commended for their dedication. The efforts of the principal and teachers to provide a coherent special education needs team are acknowledged. However, concerns were expressed during the evaluation regarding fragmentation of provision for pupils with special needs and advice was given. It is recommended a meeting should be held with local principals on an annual basis with a view to minimising fragmentation of special needs posts.

 

In keeping with good practice the staff has formulated a worthwhile whole-school policy document on learning support and special education needs and this has been ratified by the board of management. This policy provides a sound basis for the development of the support service. During the evaluation many commendable planning and well-structured teaching approaches were observed in support contexts. The support teachers collaborate with mainstream teachers and regular communication with parents and other professionals is also maintained. They carefully prepare individual education plans (IEPs) for pupils in receipt of supplementary teaching. These plans are based on the pupils’ identified learning needs and, arising from this evidence, priority learning areas and related learning targets are clearly outlined. Ongoing focused short-term planning and progress records are maintained. However, it is recommended that a statement of current level of performance should be consistently recorded in precise terms in all IEPs. It is also recommended that existing best practice of formally reviewing the IEP at the end each of the term of instruction and sharing the information with parents should be extended. 

 

Most pupils in receipt of supplementary teaching are withdrawn individually but some are withdrawn in small groups. During the instructional term, a number of pupils were transferred from learning-support to a resource teacher when additional resource hours were sanctioned for them. It is recommended that the current emphasis on withdrawal should be reduced and that school policy should be reviewed in the context of circular 24/03. This circular clarifies the flexibility that schools might employ in the allocation of resources so that they are deployed in a manner that best meets the needs of the pupils with special needs. In this context it is advised that models of in-class support within mainstream classrooms should be developed in collaboration with the special education support services.

 

 

5. Summary of findings and recommendations for the further development of Science and Mathematics

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

  • The principal is a committed professional and is very supportive of staff.
  • The teachers are progressive and collaborate closely with each other. They are committed to improving the quality of pupils’ education, and are enthusiastic about embracing change and development.
  • The curriculum co-ordinators contribute significantly to the development of Mathematics and Science in the school.
  • Much credit is due for the efforts staff members make to provide caring, stimulating learning environments for the pupils in their care despite significant space restrictions.
  • The pupils are highly motivated, responsive, courteous and eager to learn and display a good knowledge and understanding of key concepts.
  • The school has a good variety of equipment and resources for both Mathematics and for Science.
  • The chairperson of the board of management is very supportive and committed to the further development of the school.

 

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

 

  • It is recommended that the school’s assessment and recording procedures should be further developed, particularly with a view to extending the regular use of assessment for learning on a whole school basis and promoting further progression in pupils’ learning.
  • It is recommended that the duties of the co-ordinators be expanded to include monitoring and evaluation.
  • It is recommended that there be an increased focus on promoting procedural knowledge and on providing further opportunities to engage in designing and making activities.
  • It is recommended that the use of concrete materials and hands-on active learning approaches in the teaching of Mathematics be extended.
  • It is recommended that a more co-ordinated approach to dealing with special needs should be developed.

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the chairperson of the board of management where 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.