An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Scoil Naomh Micheál
Gleann Maghair Uachtarach,Corcaigh
Roll Number: 15792U
Date of inspection: 2 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 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 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. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Two inspectors were involved in the evaluation in Scoil Naomh Micheál, Gleann Maghair. 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.
This school is pleasantly situated on a spacious, elevated site in the parish of Glanmire approximately six miles from Cork City. It serves a well-established rural community and caters for boys and girls from infants to sixth class. Built in the 1980s, the schoolhouse presents as an attractive two-storey brick clad building of eight permanent classrooms, a general-purpose room and ancillary accommodation. Also, there is a prefabricated classroom situated in the yard behind. The decorative order of the building is very good and reflects a continuing and impressive concern shown by the board of management for the discharge of its obligations. The grounds are neatly laid out, the children have a sports field and basketball court at their disposal and, appropriately as the school is situated beside a busy road, the whole complex is well fenced.
The staff consists of an administrative principal and thirteen teachers. Of these, nine have charge of mainstream classes and four are learning support/ resource teachers; one of these is a shared appointment and another operates on a part-time basis. There is also a caretaker and a secretary whose contribution to the operation of the school is most appreciated. There are 246 boys and girls on roll and, given the high level of building activity in the vicinity, it is likely that this figure will increase substantially in the near future.
Close links have been established with parents and their role continues to be seen as central to the success of the school. As a matter of policy, they are made feel welcome to visit and consult with teachers on an informal basis at times of mutual convenience and there is also an annual formal consultation meeting between teachers and parents. Further, the principal and staff are most appreciative of the many initiatives of an enthusiastic Parents’ Council that consistently engages in a variety of initiatives that embrace not only the more usual areas of fundraising and support for sport, but also that of curricular delivery. In this regard, parental collaboration is usefully harnessed in the ratification of draft policies and in the delivery of the reading programme. Notably, shared reading initiatives constitute an integral element of the school’s approach to promoting an interest and competence in the area of literacy. In addition, parental support for Science activities is growing and, for example, this is evidenced in parents’ engagement with their children’s construction activities in the ‘Energy and Forces’ strand of Science in Primary Curriculum 1999. Paralleling this collaboration with parents, the school is involved in an evolving process of liaison with outside agencies to enhance its Science programme and this is evidenced in its involvement in the UCC Science Week, in Lifetime Lab and in the Healthy School initiative; and it is has now embarked on the early stages of securing Green Flag status. For their vision and initiative in these areas, and in their relationship with parents too, the principal and staff are worthy of particular commendation.
Overall the school is very well resourced and the principal and staff are consistently adding to the stock of teaching materials and equipment. In respect of Science, they have made a substantial investment in the procuring of equipment and materials and the level of resourcing is now sufficient to support a high level of hands-on learning activities across the various strands. Among the items noted are models of the human body, bug viewers, magnets, lenses, magnifying glasses, percussion instruments, measuring cylinders, pulleys. In addition there are various CDs, computer programmes and illustrative charts that are based on human and environmental themes. A notable inclusion is the digital camera which is used to impressive effect in recording learning activities, and discussion with the children testifies to its clear success in increasing motivational levels throughout the school.
Appropriately, equipment and materials are stored in a central location and teachers draw from this as the need arises. The principal has a particular interest in Science and at present functions as Science co-ordinator. In consultation with colleagues he assumes responsibility for ordering Science equipment and materials and ensures that the school follows a systematic policy of resource procurement. Given that he is required to engage in a multiplicity of administrative and leadership duties throughout the school day, it is now appropriate that the feasibility of appointing another member of staff, perhaps a post-holder, to assume responsibility for ordering, managing, auditing and reordering materials and equipment for Science. Further responsibilities might include the co-ordination of the following activities: the development and use of the school grounds as a resource for learning; the most profitable use of textbooks, computer software and other classroom resources; participation in Science projects; sharing of knowledge and skills among colleagues. Whereas all these areas are being attended to in a creditable manner at present, it is likely that one staff member, free from unremitting administrative demands but working in close liaison with the principal, would be uniquely positioned to advance the work in Science in a purposeful and systematic fashion.
Staff members point to the school’s immediate natural environment as a valuable resource for learning about Living Things. They have embarked on an environmental audit to identify more clearly the potential around them. Within this context it is recommended that an uncultivated area be set aside and developed as part of an initiative to develop pupils’ knowledge and skills. This would serve as a valuable resource in promoting achievement in Science and might usefully include the planting of native trees and the development of a school garden.
Given that a school’s most valuable resource is its human resource, it is appropriate that staff is facilitated in taking advantage of opportunities for in-career development that present from time to time. It is noted that certain teachers in the school have had the benefit of participation in a small number of courses, some under the aegis of UCC and others as part of the long established summer course cycle of in-career programmes. These teachers in turn have shared their experiences with colleagues both at staff meetings and informally. In addition, personnel from the DES-sponsored Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) have made a valuable and appreciated contribution to the school’s capacity to deliver the Science programme. 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.
A wide range of high quality mathematical equipment together with relevant illustrative materials is provided throughout the school to support the effective teaching and learning of Mathematics. In addition, there is clear evidence that the management and use of these resources is planned in a careful and considered manner on a regular basis. Each classroom involved in this aspect of the evaluation contains a carefully-organised centre of interest which is used to promote the pupils’ interest in Mathematics. The use of Information and Communication Technologies also features very prominently in the school’s overall approach to teaching this aspect of the curriculum. The pupils’ immediate environment is also skilfully utilised as part of the teaching process, and the use of Mathematics trails is of particular relevance in this regard. It was agreed that the formal inclusion of same in the school plan will now be provided for.
Members of the staff have participated in courses aimed at improving methodologies in the teaching of Mathematics in general and also regarding provision for pupils with specific learning disabilities. In addition the cuiditheoir services provided by the Primary Curriculum Support Programme have been utilised to a significant degree in relation to the development of the school’s Mathematics Plan.
The school has prepared a useful school plan that details, as one of its elements, its Science policy and its strategy for the teaching of Science throughout the school. Revised in recent months, it attempts to promote a vision of an institution that inculcates a natural learning spirit and zest for life. A desire to educate the child holistically is highlighted and, accordingly, there is a deliberate focus on the development of cognitive, emotional and spiritual needs. The value of discovery methods is given due prominence and regard is also had for the exploration of the immediate environment. Working in tandem with the PCSP, the school has devised a detailed programme for each class in which various topics are specified. These can be viewed in juxtaposition with each other, thereby enabling the reader identify the precise topic that is to be chosen. In this practical manner, teachers are facilitated in maintaining a valuable level of continuity and progression while avoiding unnecessary repetition. This is an example of good practice and is worthy of commendation. Arrangements for recording of progress are also in place and take the form of a specification of areas covered each month. Whereas this too proves useful in promoting best practice, it is desirable that a greater measure of detail be provided by all teachers so that a more searching analysis of progress becomes possible.
Considerable effort has been made to provide a relevant school plan for Mathematics which has involved significant levels of co-operation at staff level supported by the PCSP support service. The plan itself has been ratified by the school board and was reviewed in November 2004. It sets out the curriculum objectives in relation to all the relevant strands and clearly indicates that documentation from the support services have been carefully utilised in the planning process. It also confirms that a variety of methodologies are used during the Mathematics lessons and places particular emphasis on problem-solving in real life contexts. The plan also emphasises the importance of differentiating programmes for children with specific learning needs. It was agreed that good practice evident in class work should now be more fully set out in the plan. Particular reference was made to the use of text books and the use of assessment for formative purposes in this regard.
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.
In virtually every class, the quality of teachers’ individual written preparation is impressive and teachers are commended for their conscientious preparation of schemes of work.
Long-term planning in Science and Mathematics is directly referenced to Primary School Curriculum (1999) and specified therein are objectives, methodologies, and topics that are in accord with the Strand and Strand unit structure of the curriculum. Of particular significance therein is a clear and purposeful desire to develop appropriate learning attitudes and a sense of enthusiasm, wonder and awe for the world around.
Short-term planning in most classrooms is comprehensive and of a high standard. Almost all teachers prepare schemes of work on a fortnightly basis and these are in accord with their long term plans that for most part are directly rooted in the school plan. Teachers specify therein their content objectives and outline briefly how they will teach and consolidate the learning. A salient feature is seen in a consistent attempt by teachers to integrate the work with English and History and Geography, the other areas of SESE. As a general recommendation, it is suggested that in the interests of consistency and development every staff member has short term preparation documents near to hand as a valuable reference tool in guiding the teaching strategy.
The school plan requires that each teacher maintains a monthly record of topics covered so that appropriate levels of continuity and progression may be promoted. Each teacher completes this monthly record and in most cases teachers’ documents were sufficiently detailed to enable identification of the range and balance of activities across all the Science strands.
The school is succeeding admirably in providing a broad and balanced Science programme. The range and quality of equipment for virtually each lesson is admirable, and apparatus and learning materials are used effectively by the children. All classrooms present as stimulating and highly attractive centres for learning and in general there is a multiplicity of illustrative materials on display to help in the consolidation of concepts, including Science concepts. Notably, in some classrooms there are many examples of pupils’ writing and drawing in the area of Science and the children are most enthusiastic in outlining the learning process that have led to the production of this attractive work.
Most teachers are to be commended for their provision of a classroom environment that supports learning in Science. Illustrative materials are used effectively to reinforce learning. Samples of pupils’ writing and drawing on Science topics are displayed and celebrated. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all classrooms. Every teacher is seen to have a very good working relationship with pupils, and the quality of teacher-pupil interactions is high. Teachers appear well organised, they use a range of effective approaches and give clear explanations. This is particularly true in respect of Designing and Making. In the main they make the objectives in lessons sufficiently clear and they make use of skilful questioning to encourage pupils reflect on key learning points; and all the while the pace and quality of the learning is good, and challenging for most. Regular opportunities are provided for working collaboratively, and group work incorporating hands-on activity is a regular feature in all classrooms. Information and communications technology (ICT) is used to effect too in many classes and this can be directly traced to the influence of the principal who has a particular interest and competence in ICT and who has devised computer programmes to support the learning in Science.
As part of this evaluation, two sets of tasks were administered in a number of classrooms from infants to sixth class. The first set assessed the pupils’ conceptual knowledge and the second focused on their procedural knowledge. In broad outline, the results indicate that work of very high quality is being undertaken in the development of conceptual understanding and that in respect of procedural knowledge the work is of good quality. All this reflects a pattern of scoring in the conceptual area that sees a substantial majority of pupils achieving mastery in virtually every Strand unit of Primary School Curriculum (1999). In fact, only two areas present with scores that indicate some scope for development and these are Forces and Sound. In contrast with the conceptual area, pupils do not demonstrate the same high levels of mastery in procedural knowledge. Hence, plans for further development in Science should seek to promote a higher level of attention to the development of procedural knowledge, and especially so in the higher classes.
The Mathematics lessons are purposefully structured and accordingly the pupils work well individually, within groups and on a whole-class basis. A striking feature of the work observed is the balance being achieved between teacher talk and pupil talk which frequently facilitates high quality discussion.
Pupil progress in Mathematics is monitored by means of observation, teacher-designed tests and on a formal basis by means of standardised testing. The results of these tests are regularly used to inform planning as well as the class teaching that follows. The results are also used to assist in formulating an effective school tracking system in relation to pupil progress. The pupils generally record their work neatly and it is purposefully monitored on a regular basis.
Pupil mastery of the relevant strands and strand units is impressive generally and pupils participate enthusiastically. It was agreed that by way of future development in the school’s Mathematics provision that an additional emphasis be placed on the Data and Chance strand of the curriculum.
There are three learning support/ resource teachers: one of these is a shared appointment and in addition there is a part-time resource teacher for pupils with special educational needs. Together with the school authorities they are to be commended for their efforts in cultivating suitable linkages with a range of other relevant professionals regarding key aspects of the service they provide. They are also to be commended for their efforts in ensuring that relevant information is shared appropriately on an ongoing basis.
Policy in relation to provision for pupils with learning difficulties/ special educational needs was reviewed in February 2005 and is in line with Circular 02/05. There is clear evidence that the tuition provided is both effective and relevant. Individual Pupil Learning Programmes are carefully prepared where necessary in collaboration with class teachers, parents, the school principal and also with other relevant professionals and are reviewed bi-annually. Tuition is provided in a caring and professional manner.
Provision for pupils who transfer to post-primary level in the area was discussed during the evaluation.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The principal exhibits a high degree of commitment and gives careful leadership and direction in developing Science and Mathematics throughout the school.
· There is a positive and supportive learning environment in which the children are happy, secure and making good progress.
· Whole school planning, and individual planning too in virtually all cases, is of very high quality and the collaborative approach adopted by staff in all its operations is impressive.
· Teachers explain work clearly, they constantly encourage pupils to work to the best of their ability and they systematically praise their achievements
· Pupils are keen to learn, they work hard and co-operate willingly in group and individual situations.
· Teachers are committed to improving the quality of pupils’ Science and Mathematics education, and are enthusiastic about embracing change and development.
· An impressive range of equipment and materials is provided and used effectively in the teaching of Science and Mathematics.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that staff as a general body should continue to cultivate a rigorous and systematic level of self evaluation that builds on recent progress.
· It is recommended that in the interests of development and disciplined attention to the achievement of learning objectives, every teacher should ensure that an adequate level of written preparation is maintained.
· It is recommended that there be an increased focus on the development of the skills that are listed in the Skills development area Working Scientifically.
· In keeping with its commitment to continuous improvement, staff is encouraged to focus particular attention on Forces and Sound.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of Scoil Naomh Micheál will use this inspection report to further develop and promote Science and Mathematics within the school.