An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Our Lady’s National School,
Rathdrum, County Wicklow
Uimhir rolla: 17228B
Date of inspection: 11 October 2007
An evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in Our Lady’s National School, Rathdrum 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 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.
Our Lady’s National School is a seven-teacher, Catholic girls’ school in the town of Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow. The staff comprises a teaching principal, four mainstream class teachers, a full-time learning-support teacher, a special-class teacher, a part-time resource teacher and a special needs assistant. The school was awarded the Green Flag in 2005 and again in 2007.
2.1 Resources for Science
The school grounds offer a rich learning environment for the teaching of Science. The building is well maintained and has a very attractive mural in the yard. There are trees, hedgerows and green areas on the grounds and a plot for the cultivation of vegetables and flowers is maintained. Teachers and their pupils use these grounds to study aspects of the science curriculum from time to time. A coordinated approach for the extended use of the school grounds and local habitats is recommended. Pupils have opportunities to visit areas of local interest including Glendalough and Avondale House. External instructors and experts are invited to speak to the pupils from time to time. There is very good provision for recycling and conservation. These activities are supported and reinforced through the use of displays, posters, signs and accessible containers. The school has a small selection of science resources, organised into practical kits. In a few classrooms there are stimulating and informative science displays. The promotion of all aspects of Science requires greater prominence throughout the school and in classrooms. All teachers have attended in-service for Science and a teacher has accessed training for the Discover Primary Science programme. There is no science coordinator in the school. It is recommended that consideration be given to appointing a science coordinator to facilitate the implementation of the science curriculum.
2.2 Resources for Mathematics
The school has a good range of materials for the teaching of Mathematics, including concrete, visual and software resources. The school plan lists the resources available and a folder of suggestions for talk and discussion and mathematics activities and games has been compiled. There are resources for Mathematics in each classroom. The teachers use these effectively to provide the pupils with worthwhile, hands-on experiences. All pupils are taught Mathematics in single stream classes, with the support of teachers in the special education team. Careful monitoring of pupil progress in Mathematics is required in order to ensure that this arrangement is working effectively.
The science plan provides satisfactory guidance on some aspects of provision. It provides an overview of the broad aims, skills, strands, methodologies, resources and assessment approaches of the curriculum. There are practical suggestions included for the use of a spiral approach to the teaching of some topics. Teachers require more detailed guidance on comprehensive science programmes at each class level which take greater account of the context of the school. It is recommended that a whole-school review of the science plan be undertaken. It is further advised that all teachers be given a copy of the plan to inform their teaching and to assist in providing progressive programmes of learning.
The teachers are to be commended for their collaborative and comprehensive engagement in planning for the teaching of Mathematics. A detailed plan for Mathematics has been devised using the School Development Planning framework. It was ratified by the board in September 2007. The plan provides effective guidance on the resources and teaching methodologies to be used, the development of mathematical language, the learning of tables, assessment approaches and skills development. Clear success criteria and procedures for monitoring the effectiveness of the school plan have been agreed. In practice, a whole-school approach to the teaching of Mathematics is apparent in the organisation of classes and in the team approach to providing supplementary teaching by the support teachers.
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.
Some good individual planning is underway. These plans provide broad and balanced programmes, containing specific curriculum objectives. In other schemes, the programmes are drawn predominantly from class textbooks, with insufficient balance between strands or between knowledge and skills. It is recommended that all planning be informed by the relevant objectives in the science curriculum and that a variety of reference material and activities be used to achieve appropriate learning outcomes for all pupils. Monthly records of progress are compiled and copies of these are held centrally, in keeping with good practice.
Classroom planning is based on the strands and strand units of the curriculum and is informed by the school plan. Individual education plans (IEPs) for all pupils attending supplementary teaching are prepared by the relevant support teacher, following consultation with the class teacher. Copies of IEPs for all pupils receiving supplementary teaching support should be included in all teachers’ plans and should guide classroom practice.
The quality of teaching in Science varies. Where teaching is effective, lessons are guided by specific objectives, key concepts are explained and pupils are engaged in ‘hands-on’ learning tasks. In some classrooms there is insufficient practical work undertaken and an over-emphasis on teacher-led discussion. Overall, there is a need to extend the range of teaching strategies employed, including collaborative work in groups and pairs. Good standards are achieved in the activities undertaken in caring for the school environment. The school is to be praised for promoting the pupils’ engagement with a range of initiatives and projects, including the Green School committee, competitions and challenges. Some excellent practice was observed in Designing and Making which involved teaching the pupils to design, plan, construct and evaluate their designs. Appropriate strategies for assessment are used in a few classrooms, including self-assessment and peer-assessment. It is recommended that a whole-school approach to the assessment of learning in Science be agreed and that current good practice be shared among teachers.
Two sets of tasks were administered to a sample of pupils during the evaluation. The first set of tasks related to the pupils’ conceptual knowledge of the strands of the curriculum. Fewer than half of the pupils displayed mastery of the objectives assessed in the strands of Living Things and Materials. In the Energy and Forces strand, more than half of the pupils achieved mastery of the strand units of Forces, Heat, Magnetism & Electricity, but not in relation to Sound or Light. Many pupils achieved mastery of the strand unit of Caring for the Environment but many did not achieve mastery of either the strand unit of Environmental Awareness or Science and the Environment. The second set of tasks assessed the pupils’ procedural skills and their ability to conduct fair tests. The majority of pupils did not display mastery of these scientific skills. It is recommended that the school avail of assistance from the support services for the development of the pupils’ scientific skills on a whole-school basis.
The overall quality of teaching in Mathematics is good. A range of teaching approaches is used effectively to address the various learning needs of the pupils. Lessons are well structured and include clear demonstration and explanation of concepts. Language and discussion are central to the lessons and, in general, pupils show a good capacity to apply relevant mathematical terminology accurately while exploring tasks and explaining processes and outcomes. Praiseworthy efforts are made to ensure that there is consistency in the use of language throughout the school. The development of mathematical skills is particularly evident in the current priority of teaching problem-solving strategies. Common approaches to problem solving have been agreed by the staff and are implemented consistently. A wide variety of games and resources is effectively used to reinforce learning and to assist in recall of number facts. In all classes pupils are encouraged to estimate. While all strands of the mathematics curriculum are covered, there is a bias towards the teaching of the strand of number in some classes. There is a need in such cases to maintain a balance across all strands of the mathematics programme. Due attention is given to the integration of Mathematics with other areas of the curriculum and opportunities to relate Mathematics to real life contexts are explored. Maths trails are used beneficially in the senior class and the school’s recent participation in the Design a Board Game competition is praiseworthy.
The overall quality of pupils’ learning is generally good. The majority of pupils display age-appropriate ability to perform suitable mental and written computation tasks, to solve problems and to explain the mathematical procedures applied. In each classroom, a small number of pupils presented as experiencing difficulty with core elements of the mathematics curriculum. It is important that strategies to support in-class differentiated learning are devised to ensure that appropriate support is provided for all pupils. Teachers use a range of assessment methods to evaluate pupils’ progress. Standardised test results are analysed annually and ongoing discussion and experimentation occur to enhance the learning experiences and the achievement levels of all pupils.
All mainstream pupils are taught Mathematics in single-stream settings. Pupils who are considered in need of extra assistance with numeracy receive tuition on a withdrawal basis, either individually or in groups of two or three. Decisions to include pupils for supplementary teaching are made by the support teachers in consultation with the principal and class teachers based on standardised test results. Content and methodology are tailored to the individual needs of the pupils. Praise and positive reinforcement are used constructively to foster pupils’ self confidence. IEPs are drawn up by the support teachers in consultation with the class teacher. Parents are consulted and, if requested, copies of the IEPs are supplied. Clear learning targets are set and the IEPs are reviewed regularly. Pupils’ supplementary teaching is discontinued on the basis of screening test results and class teachers’ assessments over time.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Our Lady’s NS has a vibrant, committed staff combining experienced and recently qualified teachers.
· The school has attained the Green Flag and the pupils have achieved good standards in recycling, conservation of resources and caring for the environment.
· There is expertise among the staff in relation to the teaching of Mathematics and Science.
· Comprehensive whole-school planning for Mathematics has been undertaken and the staff is to be commended for its ongoing efforts to improve the standards of achievement in Mathematics.
· A good range of resources is available and is used effectively to enhance the teaching and learning in 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 consideration be given to the appointment of a science coordinator to facilitate the whole-school implementation of the science curriculum and to liaise with the support services.
· It is recommended that greater use be made of the school environment for the study of habitats and scientific phenomena.
· It is recommended that the pupils’ scientific skills be developed systematically through regular engagement in collaborative investigations.
· It is recommended that lessons in Mathematics be differentiated to meet the varying abilities of all pupils.
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 October 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomes the Evaluation Report and appreciates the endorsement of success and effort. It welcomes the findings of the Inspectorate, which will inform and support the school in the future. The Board is also pleased that, after many years of staff changes and teachers completing probation, the school now has an experienced, committed and conscientious staff, which will enhance the process of planning and implementation of all areas of the curriculum.
The Board feels that the method of assessment used during the evaluation, especially in Science, i.e. formal written assessment, is not child-friendly and proves problematic for children with language difficulties. While the evaluation recorded the children’s attainment on that particular day, the staff feel that it does not reflect the children’s true understanding and ability to respond, especially through talk and discussion and use of materials – a method of assessment with which the children are more familiar.
The teachers consider that Science displays are integral to children’s learning, and consequently, make every effort to ensure that material relevant to the work currently being undertaken, or recently done, is on display. Naturally, the amount on display early in the school year reflects this.
The Board is committed to providing resources for the school, although this is of course subject to the restraints of the school’s budget.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The findings and recommendations of the report have been considered. The school’s Science policy has been reviewed and expanded regarding increased use of the environment with specific emphasis on scientific investigations and programmes at each class level. More explicit differentiation in Maths planning has been implemented.