An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Clonegal National School,
Clonegal, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford
Date of inspection: 28 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
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 Clonegal Primary School. 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.
Clonegal National School is a six-teacher co-educational Catholic primary school located in the village of Clonegal, Co. Wexford. The school has recently undergone considerable staffing changes with four of the teachers, including the principal, appointed since September 2006.
The environs of the school provide a rich resource for teaching and learning in Science and are used effectively by the teachers. This is particularly evident in the school’s approach to the study of habitats, seasonal change, and the teaching of environmental awareness and care. The school building, which was extended in 1990, has four small and two large classrooms. The available classroom space is well utilised by all teachers in their implementation of the science curriculum. A very good range of suitable material resources is available to every class. The board of management is to be commended for its ongoing contribution to the renewal, updating and supplementing of those resources. The teachers ensure that the resources are used to support active learning by all pupils and the effective development of their scientific skills and knowledge.
All teachers display an interest in Science and an awareness of the importance of achieving breadth and balance in the science curriculum taught. It is advised that consideration be given to designating one staff member as the school’s science co-ordinator. This is particularly important in the context of building upon the school’s achievements in Science to date and addressing curriculum implementation issues as they arise. Some teachers have attended science summer courses and most have had access to the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) cuiditheoir service for science in recent years.
There is a good supply of mathematical resources available to all classes. Most classrooms have a dedicated mathematics area with a range of materials, equipment and teacher-designed charts on display. The organisation of such an area in all classrooms is advised. Varying emphases are placed on textbooks in the teaching of Mathematics. In some classrooms, judicious use is made of the textbook to support learning; in other classrooms there is an over-reliance on the textbook. Review of the use of textbooks is recommended in order to ensure that all children experience an active, hands-on mathematics curriculum and that textbooks, where used, are used prudently to support learning. The school’s commitment to the children’s learning in Mathematics is evident in its allocation of learning-support hours to assist a number of children in Mathematics.
3.1 Whole-school planning for Science
The school plan for Science is of a high standard. Originally devised in 2005 with the assistance of a cuiditheoir, it was reviewed in December 2006 to take account of the changed staff context of the school. It sets out clearly how the strands are to be organised in one-year and two-year blocks, the methods to be promoted, and the significance of the local environment and of the children’s own ideas in science learning. It identifies safety requirements and classroom management strategies to promote active and collaborative learning. It includes a general provision on assessment in Science. That provision requires greater specificity in order to be of significant practical assistance in monitoring progress in Science and shaping future plans for teaching and learning in the subject.
3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics
A comprehensive action plan for the teaching of Mathematics is in place. It is tailored to the needs of the school in that it identifies specific aspects of the mathematics curriculum requiring particular attention. It sets out appropriate whole-school strategies to be used in the teaching of Mathematics and provides for the development of the learning-support teacher’s role in mathematics education over the course of the school year. It is intended to have a detailed mathematics policy, informed by the implementation of the action plan, in place by September 2007.
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 overall quality of classroom planning and preparation for Science is good. Most teachers base their planning on the specific objectives of the curriculum with appropriate links between the short-term and long-term plans and provision for suitable progression in learning. There is evidence of provision for individual pupil needs in some classroom planning. It is recommended that all classroom planning include planning for the different learning needs of pupils, as appropriate. The teachers’ classroom planning includes considered provision for the integration of Science with other curriculum areas, most notably Geography, History, English and the Visual Arts. Monthly records of progress in Science are maintained for all classes. All timetables indicate that appropriate time is allocated for Science at every class level.
All teachers plan for the teaching of Mathematics. The nature of that planning varies, with more detailed plans provided for senior classes. Some classroom planning does not provide adequately for individual pupil needs. It is recommended that all classroom planning be linked firmly to specific curriculum objectives and that it include adequate provision for individual pupil needs. The use of a common approach to recording progress in Mathematics on a monthly basis should be considered.
4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science
In all classrooms, there is an atmosphere that is conducive to effective work in Science. Classroom displays celebrate the children’s learning in several strands and resources are readily available during the lessons. The teachers incorporate the school grounds and the village of Clonegal into the physical learning context when appropriate. In general, whole-class teaching, group work and individual work are used effectively in the organisation of science lessons. Pupils are generally managed effectively as they engage in science tasks.
The quality of teaching in Science is generally high. Lesson objectives are shared with the pupils; many learning activities are challenging and interesting and, in general, the methodologies of the science curriculum are successfully used. One aspect of teaching that requires further attention in some classes is that of differentiating learning activities and methods to meet the needs of individual children. Pupils in a small number of classes also require greater opportunities to work in pairs and to plan fair tests. In most classrooms there is scope for developing the use of ICT in the teaching of Science.
The quality of the children’s learning in Science is praiseworthy. Active and enthusiastic involvement of the pupils in science tasks is one of the hallmarks of science lessons in this school. The children discuss science concepts with confidence and understanding. They demonstrate an ability to evaluate evidence and draw conclusions from their experiments and investigations. In general, they use science terminology appropriately. The pupils’ performance on tasks assigned to them during the inspection to test their procedural knowledge indicates a growth in that knowledge as they progress through the school. All of the senior pupils demonstrated mastery of the knowledge and skills required by the task assigned. Most of the children in the middle standards demonstrated mastery of the necessary knowledge and skills as did a majority of the children in the junior classes. The children’s performance in relation to the tasks designed to test their conceptual knowledge was more varied. With regard to the strand Living Things, a majority of the pupils displayed mastery of the concept tested in the Myself tasks, but a majority did not display mastery of the Plants and Animals concepts tested. In relation to the strand Energy and Forces, most pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in the tasks on Forces, Light, Sound and Heat but a majority did not display mastery of the concepts tested in the Magnetism and Electricity tasks. Most of the pupils showed mastery of the concepts tested in the strands Materials and Environmental Awareness and Care. Their mastery of concepts in the latter strand was particularly impressive.
In most classrooms, a formal, systematic approach to assessment in Science has not yet been developed. It is recommended that the issue of assessment in Science be reviewed on a whole-school basis and that a whole-school assessment policy in keeping with the Primary School Curriculum 1999 be implemented in all classrooms.
4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics
Many of the teaching methodologies for Mathematics recommended in the Primary School Curriculum 1999 are being successfully implemented throughout the school. Pupils are encouraged to take an active part in their learning. Emphasis is placed on practical experiences using hands-on discovery methods and co-operative learning. Mathematical language is incrementally developed. The linking of concepts taught in Mathematics to pupils’ experiences in the environment and the integration of mathematical concepts with other curriculum areas is appropriately addressed. Commendable work in this area is being carried out in some middle classes.
In the junior classes, attention is given to concept formation and language development through early mathematical activities. Pupils experience a broad variety of work across the strands. Suitable emphasis is placed on oral work to extend the pupils’ mathematical thinking. An appropriate variety of rhymes and songs are used to reinforce concepts taught. Extensive use is made of manipulatives to support learning.
In the middle and senior classes pupils experience all strands of the mathematics curriculum. The use of appropriate mathematical language is an integral part of each lesson. The majority of pupils display a very good understanding of the principles of number and place value. They are accurate at computation work and estimation. Very good work is underway in many classes on fractions, directed numbers, data and shape and space. The concepts taught are regularly revised and consolidated. Written work is methodically corrected and copybooks are maintained in a neat and orderly fashion. Further attention to developing problem-solving skills across the strands is recommended.
It is intended that the Drumcondra Primary Mathematics test will be the standardised norm-referenced attainment test to be used in the school from this school year onwards. Pertinent information regarding strengths and areas for development in the area of Mathematics should be accrued through the consistent monitoring of these test results over time. Approaches to individual classroom assessment vary across the school. In a number of classes, teacher observation, correction of work and termly tests are used. It is recommended that a policy on assessment be developed in order to ensure a common approach to assessment of Mathematics throughout the school and to inform future planning at each class level.
4.3 Quality of supplementary teaching for pupils in Mathematics
A full-time learning-support teacher provides in-class support in Mathematics to all classes on a needs basis. Support is organised on either a whole-class group or small-group basis. Provision is co-ordinated through formal monthly meetings with each class teacher. Parents, the class teacher and the learning-support teacher set the targets for each child’s individual profile learning programme. The results of standardised tests, the pupils’ progress in class, and the observations of the class and learning-support teachers determine if targets are being met. Parental consent is sought before learning support is discontinued.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A very good range of resources is available for Science and a good range of resources is available for Mathematics. The board of management is to be commended for its ongoing contribution to the renewal, updating and supplementing of those resources.
· All teachers display an interest in and an awareness of the importance of achieving breadth and balance in the science curriculum taught.
· The school plan for Science is of a high standard.
· The quality of teaching in Science is generally high.
· The quality of the children’s learning in Science is praiseworthy.
· Many of the teaching methodologies for Mathematics recommended in the Primary School Curriculum 1999 are being successfully implemented.
· In Mathematics, the majority of pupils display a very good understanding of the principles of number and place value and they are accurate at computation and estimation.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that all classroom planning for Science and Mathematics include planning for the different learning needs of pupils, as appropriate.
· It is recommended that all classroom planning for Mathematics be linked firmly to specific curriculum objectives.
· It is recommended that the issue of assessment in Science be reviewed on a whole-school basis and that a whole-school assessment policy in keeping with the Primary School Curriculum 1999 be implemented in all classrooms.
· It is recommended that a whole-school policy on assessment in Mathematics be developed.
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.