An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Knock, Claremorris, Co. Mayo
Uimhir rolla: 16122D
Date of inspection: 23 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 2008
An evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in Scoil Mhuire, Knock was undertaken in October 2007. The evaluation focused on the provision for Science and Mathematics and on the quality of pupils’ achievement in these curricular areas. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Scoil Mhuire serves the village of Knock in east Mayo. There were 130 pupils enrolled here at the time of the evaluation. The school has a teaching principal and four other mainstream class teachers. There is also a full-time learning-support teacher and a part-time resource teacher. The school has the services of a co-ordinator appointed as part of the programme Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS).
There is effective management and development of the school’s key human resources, the teachers. The principal teacher is to be commended on managing the day-to-day operation of the school with courtesy and efficiency, in addition to his full-time teaching responsibilities. The quality of the leadership provided on both organisational and curricular issues is very good. It is evident that the teachers are highly motivated and that the staff functions effectively as a unit.
The principal shares responsibility for the co-ordination of Science in the school with the deputy principal and responsibility for co-ordinating Mathematics with another teacher. The commitment of the teachers to their own professional development is to be admired. Most of the teachers have attended courses in both Science and Mathematics. The school has made good use of the services of the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) and the School Development Planning Support (SDPS) service. Visiting experts who have contributed to the work of the school include the horticulturalist at Knock Shrine and experts from the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) heritage scheme. The school participates in An Taisce’s Green-Schools project, Forfás’s Discover Primary Science programme and the K’Nex Challenge, which is organised by the Institute of Engineers in Ireland. Parents provide assistance with many of these activities. There are plans to share the school’s work in Science with parents at an open evening as part of the Discover Primary Science programme. The local DEIS co-ordinator has assisted with the development of aspects of the Maths plan.
There has been effective development and use of the school grounds and local habitats as a resource for learning in Science. All pupils are involved in activities in the school garden and participate also in recycling, composting and bird feeding. The teachers and pupils have visited local bogland, hedgerow and lakeshore habitats. The development of trails and games to support learning in Mathematics has been identified by the staff as a priority to be addressed in the near future. The school has a good supply of materials and equipment for the teaching of Science and Mathematics. An inventory of these resources has been compiled and there are effective systems in place for their storage and use.
3. Quality of whole -school planning in Science and in Mathematics
The school plan for Science has been developed by the teaching staff with the support of a PCSP cuiditheoir. The plan is very good overall. The sections that are most likely to have a positive impact on pupils’ learning are those that have been tailored to the specific circumstances of Scoil Mhuire. The sections that are particularly useful include those dealing with assessment and record keeping, the use of the environment and the management of equipment. The plan includes the results of an audit of the local environment, which is the basis for the pupils’ exploration of local habitats. The issue of safety in Science activities is also addressed effectively. The plan also includes yearly planners that facilitate continuity and progression in Science learning as the pupils move from class to class. It is recommended that these planners be revised so that they include objectives from the strands Working scientifically and Designing and making.
The school plan for Mathematics addresses the specific needs of Scoil Mhuire. The school staff values the helpful and useful contribution made to school planning in Mathematics by personnel from the PCSP and SDPS. The plan for Mathematics is well laid out. All strands are covered and there is a commendable balance between skills development and conceptual development.
The plan outlines the range of methodologies to be used in the teaching of Mathematics in the school. Some consideration has been given to how teachers will modify activities for children in need of extra support. Much of the communication involved in developing the Mathematics programme takes place at staff meetings or on school planning days. The plan is reviewed regularly on the basis of these discussions and the results of standardised and teacher-designed assessment tests.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff (including all new staff); and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines. It is recommended that these people be identified clearly in the school plan.
Teachers prepare short-term and long-term plans that are in accordance with the Primary School Curriculum and the school plan. For the lessons observed during this evaluation, each teacher had also prepared a detailed lesson plan. This year, the staff adopted, on a trial basis, a yearbook format for short-term plans and monthly records. The format being used does not provide sufficient space for effective planning and recording of work in Science. It is recommended that the school consider adopting a different format.
The learning and teaching of Science in this school is of a very high quality. In order to build on this fine work, it is recommended that the teachers give further consideration to pupil outcomes in their preparation and recording of progress. In this regard, it would be useful for the staff to explore ways of assessing pupil achievement in Science. A good starting point would be Hands-On Science: Tasks to Support Assessment for Learning and Teaching, a resource that has been developed for use in Irish primary schools by staff at St. Patrick’s College of Education.
All teachers plan a broad, balanced programme in Mathematics. Schemes of work are prepared for the long-term and short-term. The schemes outline the concepts to be taught and the methodologies, resources and modes of assessment to be used. Attention is given to differentiating the work for pupils with special educational needs. At the end of each month every teacher completes a cuntas míosúil (monthly progress record), showing what part of the curriculum was taught during the month. These records are used to inform whole-school planning and to ensure breadth and balance in the implementation of the school’s Mathematics programme.
The learning-support and resource teachers provide useful education plans for the pupils with whom they work. Diagnostic tests are used to assess where help is needed and to monitor progress. A record of the work done with individuals and groups is maintained on a daily basis. These plans and records are kept on file in the school.
Most classrooms provide a rich visual environment to support learning in Science. This includes the use of dedicated Science areas with labelled displays. All teachers foster a positive attitude towards Science and the classroom climates are generally conducive to the development of a culture of enquiry and debate.
The Science lessons observed were well structured and paced appropriately. The teachers place a commendable emphasis on the development of Science vocabulary. New words are displayed visually and explained clearly. The teachers show considerable skill in getting pupils to use the target vocabulary. All pupils get regular opportunities to participate in practical, ‘hands-on’ activities. Teachers use simple concept maps to identify pupils’ existing knowledge and to track the development in their understanding. These concept maps are generally done on a whole-class basis and are recorded on the blackboard. Asking each pupil to do his/her own concept map or annotated drawing would give the teacher a valuable insight into the level of understanding that has been reached by each individual pupil. Furthermore, recording whole-class discussions on charts rather than the blackboard would provide the teacher with a record that could be compared with the results of a similar discussion when the unit of work has been completed.
Two of the five Science lessons seen were from the strand Designing and making. These lessons were prepared and managed effectively, with excellent use of appropriate equipment and materials. Pupils worked well together during the ‘hands-on’ making stages of the lessons. There is evidence of scope for development with regard to the planning aspect of the Designing and making process. Pupils would benefit, in particular, from having to record in advance the success criteria for their designs as well as the materials, shapes, processes and techniques to be used. Section 3.1 of this report includes a recommendation regarding whole-school planning for Designing and making.
As part of this evaluation, two sets of tasks were administered to pupils in a sample of classrooms. The first set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ conceptual understanding. The tasks administered were based on the curriculum strands Energy and forces and Materials. In Energy and forces, pupils performed particularly well on tasks relating to the strand units Heat and Sound. The strand unit in which pupils performed least well was Magnetism and electricity. In Materials, more than half of the pupils had yet to achieve the objectives for their class level in each of the two strand units.
A second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ understanding of Science procedures, with a particular focus on the development of investigation skills. It is clear that, by the time they reach sixth class, the pupils have been enabled to design and conduct a fair test, controlling relevant variables. This fine work would be consolidated by implementing the recommendation made in section 3.1 of this report regarding whole-school planning for the strand Working scientifically.
Mathematics is taught effectively in every classroom. The quality of teaching in some classes is very good. The effectiveness of the teaching is reflected in the high achievement of most pupils in Mathematics. A positive attitude towards Mathematics is fostered throughout the school and all pupils are encouraged to do their best. The teachers ensure that Mathematics lessons are enjoyable experiences for all pupils, regardless of ability.
In the infant classes there is an appropriate emphasis on early mathematical activities. A wide variety of mathematical equipment is used effectively to enhance pupils’ learning. Most of the pupils demonstrate a very good understanding of Number and can manage number operations and balance equations at a level appropriate to their age. The attention given to place value ensures that most pupils can work well with numbers of all sizes. It is recommended that further attention be given to the teaching and learning of number facts (tables) throughout the school.
The work done on Algebra is good. Most of the pupils can solve basic equations. The pupils in every class show a good understanding of Measures. There is particularly good use of mathematical equipment in the strands Measures and Shape and space.
Overall, there is an appropriate emphasis on the teaching of mathematical language. This work would be enhanced, however, by more widespread use of charts and displays that would make it easier for pupils to understand and remember what is taught. The teachers provide an appropriate range of problem-solving opportunities. Pupils in all classes record their work neatly and it is checked and corrected by the teachers on a regular basis.
Supplementary teaching in Mathematics is undertaken in a systematic way. Effective collaboration among teachers and between parents and teachers is an important factor in ensuring the effectiveness of the support provided.
In the junior classes, there is early intervention to identify and support pupils who find Mathematics difficult. From first class onwards, pupils who need additional assistance are withdrawn from class to receive intensive instruction from the learning-support or resource teacher. The continuation of support for pupils is reviewed termly on a case-by-case basis. Where a pupil’s level of achievement in Mathematics has improved sufficiently, supplementary teaching is discontinued for that pupil.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made.
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science wishes to acknowledge the contributions made by the principal and teachers during the course of the evaluation. It is hoped that this report will be directly useful to the school as a basis for review and development of practice at school level. It is anticipated that the composite report on the quality of teaching and learning of Science will serve as a valuable reference at system level and will inform the further development of policy and provision for the teaching of Science.