An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta 

Department of Education and Science

 

Curriculum Implementation Evaluation

 Science and Mathematics 2007

 

REPORT

 

Templetouhy National School

Thurles County Tipperary

Roll Number:  16250M

 

Date of inspection:  25 October 2007

 

 

 

Introduction

School background and context

Provision and use of resources

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching in Science and Mathematics

Summary of findings and recommendations

Conclusion

 

 

Introduction

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 Templetouhy N.S. 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.

 

1. School background and context

 

Templetouhy N.S. is a six teacher rural national school under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Cashel and Emly. The school is approximately eight kilometres from Templemore town.. On the 30 September 2006 there were 93 pupils enrolled. The enrolment is projected to remain stable in the future. The staff comprises a teaching principal and three mainstream class teachers. A shared learning support teacher and a full-time resource teacher provide support in the school for pupils with learning difficulties. The learning support post is shared with Clonmore N.S. for five hours per week.

 

A very 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 very good leadership qualities. He has very good interpersonal skills and uses these to communicate with the staff, members of the board of management and parents.

 

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 principal reports that the school Parentsí Association is active in fundraising and in organising extra-curricular activities. The Parentsí Association is to be commended for its support of the school in these activities.

 

2. Provision and use of resources

There are four mainstream classrooms, a general-purposes room, a learning support, and resource teaching room. The school also has a medium sized room that is used for Visual Arts activities.  A new classroom was erected in the last year and the principal teacher now occupies this classroom, providing access to the general purposes room for other curriculum related activities. A small staffroom and administrative office completes the accommodation. The school building is well maintained. A caretaker is employed in the school on a part-time basis and the external environment of the school is very well maintained.

 

In general, each classroom is equipped with a satisfactory range of resources. These include some mathematical and Science equipment, library books and some concrete materials. All of the computers in the school are deployed in the mainstream classrooms. Some of the resources in the school are stored centrally including some of the Science equipment in the principalís office. The principal, the Science and Mathematics co-ordinators and class teachers indicated that 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.

 

2.1 Resources for Science

With regard to physical resources, the school has a good 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 to ensure that all pupils will have the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning experiences across all strands of the Science curriculum.

The schoolís immediate natural environment is a very valuable resource for learning about Living Things. During the evaluation members of the staff stated that the environment is used frequently in the development of skills and knowledge. It is recommended that the school grounds be further developed as a valuable resource for learning in Science. This might include the planning and the development of a school garden and Science trails. The school has actively engaged with the local environmental officer as part of the Green Flag programme. Children have been provided with opportunities to visit local amenities such as the woods nearby. Classes have also attended Science exhibitions at the Tipperary Institute.

The responsibility for Science has been delegated to one of the mainstream teachers in the school. No specific responsibilities have as yet been allocated in respect of the teaching of Science. The post-holder also has responsibility for Music in the school. The responsibilities attached to the post of Science co-ordinator should include the implementation and review of 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 of trails within 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

A good supply of age-appropriate mathematical equipment, illustrative materials, text books, workbooks and teacher developed worksheets is also in evidence in all classrooms. However, the provision of resources for Mathematics requires further development. A range of illustrative materials is displayed in classrooms including pupils work. In mathematical areas the teachers provide number rich environments which contribute to providing pleasant and stimulating environments for pupils. It is recommended that there be more widespread use of illustrative materials to support the pupilsí use of mathematical language in all classrooms.

 

Concrete materials were used effectively in supporting the learning process. It is recommended that a wider range of concrete materials be purchased in order that hands-in activities can be carried out more regularly during the teaching and learning process. The Mathematical environment in all classrooms could be further enhanced by including mathematical displays and apparatus relevant to the various strands and where pupils experiment and display their results.

 

Information and communications technologies (ICT) are used effectively to support teaching and learning of this aspect of the curriculum in all classrooms. The pupilsí immediate environment is utilised to support the teaching process in some classrooms however it is recommended that the use of Mathematical trails be further developed and utilised in all classrooms. The formal inclusion of trails in the school plan should be considered as part of the review.

 

3. Quality of School Planning in Science and in Mathematics

 

3.1 Whole-school planning in Science

The school plan in Science was devised collaboratively by the whole school staff.  The work carried out on the development of the plan to date is commendable. Members of the staff attended a professional development course in Nenagh and this course focused on the curricular areas in Social, Environmental and Scientific Education. This course was delivered by a member of the Primary Curriculum Support Team. The staff stated that this course was very useful in developing whole school plans in History, Geography and Science. All teachers were involved in the development process and the plan was completed in June 2007. The school plan is based on the structure of the Primary Science Curriculum and its key emphases. The review date for the plan is 2009.

 

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 Templetouhy NS and more focused in guiding classroom practice. It is recommended, for example, that the plan make reference to the content objectives from the Primary School Curriculum and the relevant learning experiences to be provided at each class level in all of the strands and the intended learning outcomes of these activities.

 

3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics

The development of the school plan for Mathematics formulated in 2002 was as a result of collaboration among staff members. It is noted that the documentation from the support services was utilised during this process. The policy has been ratified by the board of management and its review and development will now form part of the responsibilities of the deputy principal. The plan is general in nature and outlines rationale, vision, aims, content listed under strand and strand units for all class levels. It contains lists of approaches and methodologies, assessment strategies and short statements on children with different needs, equality of participation, organisation, homework, resources, teacher planning, staff development, parental involvement and success criteria. A list of mathematical language is detailed for each class level. It is recommended that the newly appointed co-ordinator in collaboration with the staff review this plan to include comprehensive statements under each of the headings contained in the plan ensuring that it is specific to the needs and resources of the school. 

 

There is also a need to focus on planning towards the achievement of definite outcomes for pupils at each class level to ensure continuity and progression throughout the school. It is recommended that the good practice evident in class work should now be documented in the school plan. Consideration should also be given to the incorporation in the plan of additional methodologies which will promote active learning, collaborative learning, inquiry-based learning, integrated learning, independent learning and use of ICT, as recommended in the curriculum.

The review should also include reference to the use of the school environment including the development of mathematical trails as a resource for learning in Mathematics. In reviewing this plan it is recommended that the staff should work in collaboration with the Primary Curriculum Support Co-ordinator for Mathematics.

 

Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have developed and adopted a very brief statement in relation to Child Protection. It is recommended that appropriate steps be taken to develop a clear policy 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) without delay. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy liaison person have been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.  It is recommended that a copy of the reviewed policy be disseminated to all staff and board members.

 

3.3 Classroom planning

All teachers observed prepare short-term schemes of work that reflect balanced coverage of all the strands and strand units in Science and Mathematics. In general the quality of individual short-term planning is good; however, individual planning varies in detail. The best developed plans include curriculum objectives, mathematical or scientific language, methodologies, resources, assessment and differentiation. It is recommended that all teachers include all elements in their short-term planning. It is further recommended that increased attention to the differentiation of programme content will be of particular benefit to all pupils requiring extra support and for pupils with special educational needs.

 

Teachersí long-term planning generally reflects the structure and language of the Primary school Curriculum. The plans are of a good standard and are detailed under a range of headings. Some long-term plans make reference to methodologies, assessment and differentiation. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes

 

Every teacher maintains a monthly record of topics covered so that appropriate levels of continuity and progression can be maintained. In general these documents are helpful in identifying the range and balance of activities undertaken. However, their value in providing useful information would be enhanced if they were amended to include a brief comment on levels of achievement and skills mastered by pupils.

 

 

4. Quality of learning and teaching in Science and Mathematics

 

4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science

Science lessons were observed in materials, energy and forces, living things and environmental awareness and care. In general, the lessons observed were well prepared and presented clearly. Overall, the teaching observed was very good. The teachers use a wide range of methodologies including, group and collaborative work, individual instruction, talk and discussion, demonstration, pupils undertaking experiments and some investigative work using concrete materials. While activity based learning was observed in all classrooms, there should be a greater emphasis on children working scientifically. There was some evidence of investigative work in infant, junior, middle and senior classes and some pupils had a good understanding of the language of Science. The development of a Science investigation area in each classroom is recommended.

 

In the majority of the lessons observed the emphasis on science skills was focused on observing, predicting, estimating, recording, sorting and classifying. Most of the lessons were teacher directed and as a consequence there was little opportunity for pupils to engage in planning their own fair tests and experiments. While the skills of exploring and planning fair tests was observed during the inspection period, it is recommended, that an increased focus on the development of the skills would enhance the quality of teaching and learning in Science.

 

Good lessons in some classrooms could be improved if specific objectives from the curriculum and intended learning outcomes were identified in all individual teachersí planning. Teacher observation, evaluation of pupilsí work samples and tests are reported as the assessment strategies in use by class teachers in Science. 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 Materials, half of the pupils demonstrated an understanding of the concept tested in respect of properties and characteristics of materials and greater than one third of the pupils demonstrated proficiency in materials and change. In the strand Energy and Forces approximately one quarter of the pupils demonstrated competency in the concept of light. All of the pupils tested in this strand had difficulties with the concepts of sound, heat, forces, magnetism and electricity. Pupils also completed tasks in the strand Living Things, one third of pupils demonstrated competency in the concepts related to Human Life. A significant majority had difficulties with tasks in the concepts relating to plant and animal life. The fourth strand in which tasks were administered was the strand of Environmental Awareness and Care. Three tasks were administered in respect of the following concepts, environmental awareness, science and the environment and caring for the environment. In environmental awareness, more than two fifths of pupils demonstrated a good understanding of the concepts tested. In science and the environment approximately one third of pupils demonstrated proficiency. Half of pupils demonstrated competency in the concepts relating to caring for the environment.

 

 

The second set of tasks was used to assess the pupilsí procedural knowledge. More than half the children tested at all class levels displayed competency in the skills required by the tasks. Two thirds of the pupils in junior classes, two fifths of the pupils in middle standards and half of the pupils in senior classes had acquired the skills required by the task.

 

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 overall quality of learning and teaching of Mathematics throughout the school is very good. Lessons were well structured and paced accordingly. Elements of good practice observed included the use of a variety of methodologies and organisational settings, the use of concrete materials and the emphasis on the language of Mathematics. Language and discussion are central to the teaching and learning processes and in general, pupils display a good capacity to apply relevant mathematical terminology accurately and confidently while exploring tasks. In some classes the range of pupilsí abilities is catered for through appropriate differentiation of materials and tasks. This practice should be included at all class levels. Good interaction was observed between teachers and pupils in all classrooms. Due emphasis is placed on the language of Mathematics.

 

Lessons in all classrooms were very good and a very structured approach to the teaching of Mathematics is undertaken. Good attention was given to the development of the language of Mathematics. The methodologies observed included talk and discussion, active learning, and the development of skills through problem solving. The pupils were provided with opportunities to work collaboratively on mathematical tasks. The majority of pupils displayed age-appropriate ability to perform suitable mental and written computational tasks, to solve problems and to discuss results. It is recommended that further emphasis be placed on the inclusion of oral Mathematics at the beginning of every lesson to review and consolidate previous work. Pupilsí written assignments are presented neatly and monitored regularly.

 

The teachers use a variety of assessment methods in Mathematics. These include teacher-devised and commercial tests, teacher observation, standardised tests, worksheets and checklists to monitor pupilsí acquisition of knowledge and skills. It is recommended that the results of the standardised tests be analysed and information obtained should be utilised to further inform setting targets for achievement.

 

4.3 Quality of support for pupils in Mathematics

The school has documented policies on enrolment, assessment, special needs and the role of special needs assistants. The staged model of intervention in identifying needs and in supporting pupils is implemented. The school has recently introduced an intervention programme in literacy in the infant classes. An intervention policy has not been formulated at the time of the evaluation. It is recommended that the intervention policy be developed to include a staged approach and support activities which are firmly based on the pupilsí learning needs. The school has one full-time resource teacher and one shared learning support teacher. The learning support teacher who is working in a job sharing capacity is based in the school and shared with one other school. The fulltime resource teacher is based in the school and provides support for seven pupils with special educational needs.

 

The learning environments in the support settings are bright and stimulating with a range of illustrative materials and some of the childrenís work on display. A very wide range of resource materials is available in the support rooms and these materials are used effectively during the teaching and learning. Children are withdrawn on an individual and group basis. Some teachers devise very effective individualised learning materials through the use of ICT. Individual pupil learning profiles (IPLPs) are devised and are based on the relevant, professional reports and standardised test results available. The class teachers are also consulted and specific lessons are sometimes provided to support in-class teaching and learning.

 

It is recommended that the templates from the Learning Support Guidelines be used to write the IPLP. While the IPLP is normally devised and implemented from the beginning of the school year and reviewed normally at the end of January, it is recommended that discrete short-term programmes should be devised and that specific targets should be identified based on pupilsí individual learning needs. Ongoing liaison is carried out with the class teacher and this practice is to be commended. Meetings with parents are organised and feedback provided on pupilsí progress. While pupilsí success in attaining certain learning goals is recorded on an ongoing basis, a monthly review of pupilsí attainment in respect of the specific targets outlined in the IPLP would be helpful when reviewing the IPLP in the future. Pupilís success in attaining these targets should be recorded in monthly progress reports.

 

 

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

 

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 in Science and Mathematics is good.

         The teachers are very committed to the social and educational development of the children in their care.

         Pupilsí behaviour and application to tasks and their engagement in the learning process is good.

         The principal demonstrates very good leadership skills and he is highly respected by the board of management and staff.

          A broad and balanced curriculum is delivered in the school.

         The school achieves good standards in Mathematics.

         Most aspects of the teaching in Science are good.

         The accommodation and school grounds are of a very high standard and very 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 should be provided with opportunities to engage in more open-ended science   investigations on a regular basis.

         Additional emphasis should be placed on consolidation, review and assessment in Science.

         Standardised testing in Mathematics should be re-introduced.

         Post-holders curricular responsibilities in respect of Science and Mathematics should be agreed with the principal and documented.

         The school should continue to develop the resources for Mathematics and Science.

         There is a need to review the enrolment policy.

         While the school has developed a very brief policy in respect of the Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children, it is recommended this policy should now be reviewed to provide greater clarity around school procedures.

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff, at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

Conclusion

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.

 

 

 

Published June 2008