An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

 

Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:

Science and Mathematics 2007

 

REPORT

  

St. Colmcille’s Primary School,

 Templemore, Co. Tipperary

Uimhir rolla: 16979S

  

Date of inspection:  6 February 2007

  Date of issue of report:  8 November 2007

 

Introduction

1. School background and context

2. Provision and use of resources

3. Quality of whole -school planning in Science and in Mathematics

4. Quality of learning and teaching in Science and Mathematics

5. Future development of Science and Mathematics

Conclusion

 

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 focused 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.

 

Two inspectors were involved in the evaluation in St. Colmcille’s Primary School, Templemore, Co. Tipperary. 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 in Science in primary schools.  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.

 

 

1. School background and context

 

St. Colmcille’s Primary School is a six-teacher boys’ school under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Cashel and Emly. The school caters for pupils from first to sixth classes. There are 86 pupils enrolled and pupil attendance is very good. The school benefits from Department of Education and Science (DES) initiatives to combat educational disadvantage such as Delivering Education Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) and has a favourable pupil-teacher ratio of 20:1.

 

The staff includes four mainstream class teachers, a learning support-resource teacher and a resource teacher. The school shares a resource teacher for Travellers with St. Joseph’s National School and a small number of pupils, with English as an additional language, access supplementary teaching in St. Josephs Primary School on a daily basis. The principal and one mainstream class teacher have been appointed to the school at the start of this academic year.

 

A positive climate permeates the school. The staff members work well as a team and are committed to creating a learning environment that nurtures pupils’ well-being, overall development and high quality learning. The leadership in the school is good. The newly appointed principal has good interpersonal skills and is innovative. He manages communication with the staff, the board of management, parents and pupils very effectively.  The board of management should consider re-organising the secretarial support for the school so that personnel is available during the morning period when significant demand is currently placed on the principal. This support will help to reduce the interruptions to the principal’s teaching duties.


 

2. Provision and use of resources

 

The school has four mainstream classrooms, a general purposes room, two learning support-resource classrooms, a staffroom and a small office for administration. The board of management has been allocated a grant under the Summer Works scheme to assist in the upgrading of the toilet facilities, the plumbing system and the replacement of the boiler. The Office of Public Works plans to remove asbestos from the school building and this work will be carried out in the summer of 2007.

The school site is small and there is no staff car park. It is recommended that the board of management make an application to the Planning and Building Unit of the Department of Education and Science for the construction of a safe set-down area in front of the school and the inclusion of a car park on the school grounds.

 

The range of resources in the school to assist the teaching and learning process is limited in most areas of the curriculum. The newly appointed principal, together with the staff, have purchased materials for Science. A grant of 1100 euro was donated by the local Credit Union to fund these materials. The staff recognises the need for additional resources in Science to support the implementation of the curriculum.  

 

The provision of resources for Mathematics is limited. Some basic equipment such as metre sticks, clocks and some cubes is available in the classrooms. It is recommended that the board of management continue to augment the classroom resources in Mathematics so that pupils can engage in hands-on learning in each of the strands.

 

 

3. Quality of whole -school planning in Science and in Mathematics

 

The process of whole-school planning has received considerable attention during the current academic year. The principal and the staff are commended for the work achieved to date. Whole-school plans for some subjects such as English, Irish, Mathematics, Science and Visual Arts have been developed. However, plans for other areas such as Physical Education, History and Geography have still to be developed. Significant attention has been given to formalising the administrative and organisational planning. The board of management ratifies the plans.

Attention has been given by the staff in recent months to school self-evaluation and strengths and areas for development are outlined in the school plan. It is recommended that an action plan should be devised and priorities for development should be agreed by the staff and the board of management. The board should review post-holders’ duties to ensure that responsibility for curriculum leadership is shared among all staff members and the post-holders can lead formal reviews of curriculum implementation.

 

 

3.1 Whole-school planning for Science

 

The quality of the whole-school planning in Science is satisfactory. The plan was devised by the staff in 2006 as a result of a collaborative planning process and will be reviewed by individual class teachers at the end of 2007. The school plan outlines how the four strands of the science curriculum will be covered on a two-year basis and makes reference to the science skills that will be developed. It is recommended that the learning experiences planned for the pupils at each class level should be outlined in greater detail to ensure progression in the programmes planned. The potential of activities in each strand unit to develop the scientific investigation skills and designing and making skills should be explored further. The staff should review the plan and give further attention to ensuring that pupils are given opportunities to engage in investigation, fair testing and designing and making on a regular basis. It is recommended that the school access the services of the Primary Curriculum Support cuiditheoirí (advisors) when reviewing the school plan.

 

Templemore is an urban area rich in terms of historical, physical and natural resources. While trips to the local park are undertaken, it was noted that the potential of the local environment could be exploited further in the school plan and in classroom planning. Pupils’ progress in Science should also be assessed on a regular basis. It is recommended that the role of the curriculum co-ordinator should be further developed to include the monitoring of the implementation of the science plan.

 

 

3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics

 

A good school plan for Mathematics has been devised. The plan outlines the skills, knowledge and concepts that the pupils will develop from class to class. Consideration has been given to how teachers will modify and adapt activities for pupils with learning difficulties, pupils with language difficulties and pupils from the Traveller community. Significant attention is given in the plan to the language of Mathematics. The plan emphasises the development of mathematical skills and suggests the use of a range of teaching methodologies. Strategies such as the use of concrete materials, the use of textbooks and information and communication technologies (ICT) have been considered. The plan shows how linkages will be made with the strands of the mathematics curriculum.

 

A commendable aspect of the school plan is that pupils’ progress in Mathematics, as measured on standardised tests, is recorded and graphed according to class level. This facilitates the staff’s review of standards within the school and assists in the targeting of resources to pupils with significant difficulties.

 

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

 

The quality of classroom planning in Mathematics and Science is good at all class levels. Long term plans are based on the strands and the strand units and curriculum objectives are outlined and content is specified. Short-term planning is based on the textbooks and linked to the strands and strand units. Specific objectives for the lessons should be delineated in the future. Monthly progress records are maintained by teachers and these outline the aspects of the curriculum covered.

 


 

4. Quality of learning and teaching in Science and Mathematics

 

4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science

 

Science lessons were observed in living things, environmental awareness and care, energy and forces and materials with a designing and making focus. The lessons were well-prepared and presented clearly. The classroom environments support learning in Science and provide investigation/exploration tables. Pupils’ models and experiments are displayed in some of the classrooms.

 

A variety of methodologies is used in the science lessons and these include talk and discussion, teacher demonstration, experimentation, the use of concrete materials and group and collaborative work. In some classrooms, lessons commence with a review of concept maps related to the topic and this practice is innovative and commendable. Commercially-produced concept maps were observed in use in these classes. These resources are useful for exploring pupils’ ideas. It is recommended that authentic pupil concept maps are generated and pupils encouraged to discuss their understanding of the science concepts under exploration.

 

Effective teaching in Science occurs in classrooms where pupils are engaged in practical hands-on activity for much of the Science lesson. Where this good practice prevails, pupils are confident in their use of the language of Science, they use science skills to explore concepts and to conduct experiments. Pupils in these classes are motivated by the activities and learning opportunities provided and are making good progress in Science.

 

In other classes, considerable emphasis is placed on talk and discussion and the use of pictures or photographs to stimulate discussion from the whole-class and groups. These activities did not develop a wide range of skills or understanding. It is recommended that the pupils in all classes be given regular opportunities to undertake practical science activities in small groups. Greater consideration should be given to the specific objectives of the curriculum and to the intended learning outcomes of each lesson.

 

As part of this evaluation, tasks were administered to the pupils in a number of classrooms. The tasks administered to assess the pupils’ conceptual knowledge indicate that almost all of the pupils in the junior classes demonstrated a good knowledge of the concepts tested in Light, Magnetism and Electricity. However, in these classes the majority of pupils had difficulties completing tasks in Forces, Sound and Heat.

In the strand Living Things, most pupils in the middle classes displayed a good knowledge of the concepts tested in Human Life but only a minority of pupils had a secure understanding of the concepts tested in Plant and Animal Life.  In the strand Materials, the majority of pupils had difficulty in recognising the properties and characteristics of natural and manufactured materials. Most pupils had not developed the concepts associated with materials and change.

 

Overall, the pupils’ procedural knowledge was satisfactory. A majority of senior pupils were familiar with the concept of fair testing but only a small number of pupils were able to identify several variables. In the middle and junior classes, half of the pupils had developed this skill.

 

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 science lessons, and to curriculum objectives in particular. Teachers should ensure that their class programme is in accordance with the objectives of the Primary School Curriculum and the school plan.

 

4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics

 

The quality of teaching in Mathematics in the classrooms is very good. A wide variety of methodologies is used including the use of concrete materials, activity learning, pair work and group work. Appropriate emphasis was placed on whole-class and group teaching. Commendable emphasis is placed on oral mathematics, tables, memorisation and consolidation. During the lessons the pupils were provided with opportunities to work collaboratively on mathematical tasks. Pupils were engaged in problem solving activities and these activities were linked to the pupils’ prior knowledge. Pupils’ understanding was explored and developed throughout the lesson and differentiated supports were provided. The pupils’ work is regularly monitored and copybooks are corrected. Good emphasis is placed on the language of Mathematics. Mathematical trails are conducted in the school grounds and in the local environment.

 

The standards of pupil achievement are very commendable. Pupils have a good understanding of number, money, time, place value, fractions, measures, data and shape and space. Pupils demonstrate a very good understanding of mathematical language. Pupils display high levels of motivation and engagement in the lessons and their responses to oral questioning are commendable.

 

The teachers use a variety of assessment methods in Mathematics including teacher-devised and commercial tests, standardised tests and checklists to monitor pupils’ acquisition of knowledge and skills. A coherent and systematic approach to assessment in Mathematics is outlined in the school plan. Files are maintained and records of pupils’ progress are stored centrally in the school. Data on pupil achievement are shared with the parents.

 

 

4.3 Quality of support for pupils in Mathematics

 

The special education needs (SEN) team consists of a learning support-resource teacher and a resource teacher who is shared with Killea National School. A resource teacher for Travellers supports the needs of Traveller pupils in the school. The teachers collaborate closely with the class teachers and they deliver a supplementary programme that is modified appropriately to the needs of pupils and is well-matched to their abilities. The teachers devise Individual Profile and Learning Programmes (IPLP) that are based on the reports from relevant professionals and these IPLPs are informed by the results of diagnostic tests and standardised tests. Fortnightly plans are devised for individuals and for groups. The learning support-resource teachers meet with parents frequently and discuss pupils’ progress with parents on several occasions during the school year. A reading recovery programme is undertaken by the RTT with some pupils and this is a very commendable development. The SEN team discusses the programmes planned with the classroom teachers both formally and informally.

 

The learning support-resource teachers provide a comprehensive programme to support pupils in literacy and numeracy. They provide in-class support in literacy and one teacher supports differentiated teaching with the teacher in first class. Supports are also provided to pupils in numeracy. In general, the pupils are withdrawn for supplementary teaching individually or in groups. The learning support rooms are attractive and stimulating learning environments with a display of colourful print-rich material.

 


 

5. Future development of Science and Mathematics

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

  • There is a very positive school climate and teachers collaborate effectively.
  • The teaching staff is very dedicated and works very hard.
  • Pupils’ behaviour and application to tasks and their engagement in the learning process is excellent.
  • The leadership from the principal is very good.
  • Some aspects of the teaching in Science are good.
  • The school achieves very high standards in Mathematics.
  • The quality of whole-school planning is good.
  • The school building is well-maintained and the standard of cleaning is very good throughout the school.

 

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 provided with opportunities to engage in more open-ended science investigations regularly.
  • Additional emphasis should be placed on consolidation and review in Science.
  • Postholders should be assigned curricular responsibilities and should, with the principal, review the implementation of the curriculum.
  • The resources for Mathematics and Science should be extended.
  • The secretarial support should be re-organised so as to provide necessary support to the principal in his administrative duties during the school day.
  • The board should apply to the Planning and Building Unit in the Department of Education and Science for a staff car park and a set-down area.

 

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.