An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Whitecross National School
Julianstown, County Meath
Uimhir rolla: 17705J
Date of inspection: 8 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
An evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in Whitecross National School was undertaken in November, 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.
Whitecross National School is located in Julianstown, Co. Meath. The school has an administrative principal, twelve mainstream class teachers, two learning support teachers, a part-time resource teacher and a language support teacher for newcomer pupils. At the time of the evaluation there were 331 pupils enrolled in the school. The school staff also includes two full time special needs assistants, a secretary, a caretaker and a cleaner. The school has experienced very considerable growth over the past five years. It is anticipated that such growth will continue into the future. The school is supported by an active board of management and by a committed parents’ association. The school communicates very regularly with the parent population and successfully endeavours to encourage parental involvement in school activities. Attendance figures for the school are very good.
2.1 Resources in Science
The school has collected a wide range of resources for the teaching of Science. These resources are purchased by the science co-ordinator in consultation with the school staff. In response to storage limitations, the school has recently decided to store these resources in the computer room and in individual classrooms. In so doing, an inventory of the nature and location of these resources has been compiled. It is recommended that in the future development of the school’s accommodation, a more centralised location for the storage of resources be considered. An examination of the resources purchased by the school indicates that a calculated and deliberate effort has been made to provide resources for all strands of the curriculum. It is recommended that in reviewing and auditing these resources, closer consideration be given to augmenting resources dealing with strand units on Forces and Materials.
The school has made very good provision for ‘hands-on’ resources for the teaching of Science. Suitable quantities of these resources have been purchased to ensure all pupils are given opportunities to engage with them. These resources are stimulating and interactive and are well chosen to provide opportunities for the pupils to develop specific scientific skills, most especially in the area of experimentation. There is an appropriate balance between teacher resources and pupil resources.
The school makes excellent use of its grounds and local habitats for science trails and for habitat investigations. Pupils undertake a wide range of scientific investigations both within the perimeters of the school and also beyond. For example, the school organises a whole-school Beach Day on an annual basis which serves as an appropriate basis for examining seashore habitats and phenomena. Other activities and educational trips which are organised include visits to Ballygarth Castle, the Young Scientist Exhibition, the Recycling Centre and W5 (Belfast). The school has also been involved in overseas visits, most notably a visit to Wales as apart of a healthy eating project. In addition to these visits, pupils are also involved in the K’Nex challenge. Noteworthy of specific mention is the school’s use of its immediate environment. The school is highly commended for the creative and extensive manner in which this environment is utilised for the purposes of teaching Science. In this regard, pupils are engaged in a wide range of activities such as recycling, energy conservation, hedge planting, bird feeding and observation, the development of a hedgehog nesting site, the planting of a wide range of trees and the development of window boxes. In undertaking these activities, the school is highly commended for the autonomy and responsibility delegated to pupils in undertaking these tasks. Intertwined and pivotal to the active use of this local environment is the school’s garden. This project which is now in its fourth year deserves specific commendation. The school garden has eight planting beds, one for each class level. Pupils grow vegetables, fruit and flowers in these beds based on a colour theme. For example, senior infants have been assigned the colour orange, so they grow carrots, pumpkins and orange flowers. The garden also contains a sensory section designed for the investigation of all five senses; for example, it has tall grasses for the study of sound and lambs’ ears for the study of touch. The school has planted a wild garden designed around a heritage theme based on Newgrange, Dowth and Knowth. The garden also contains a willow tunnel for the study of renewable energy, a cottage garden section, compostors, a topiary spot and fruit trees. In laying out this extensive selection of flora and fauna, the school has endeavoured to do so in as artistic a manner as possible, with bird boxes, scarecrows, butterfly creations and flowerpot men being located strategically to enhance the aesthetic appearance of the garden. Pupils displayed enthusiasm for and pride in their garden. School staff and parents engaged in the management, development and maintenance of the garden are specifically commended. In managing this garden project, parents are regularly involved and are encouraged to visit the garden, most especially on school open-days. In recognition of this very laudable work, the school received several awards in the ‘Pride of Place’ competition. With the future development of this project, it is recommended that a caretaking strategy be developed for the garden to ensure its continued success and to distribute ownership of the tasks and responsibilities involved.
In addition to pupil activities in the garden, the school has also been proactive on a number of other fronts. It is very active in recycling and received a Green Flag in 2007. It is also involved in the ‘food dudes’ programme and actively promotes a healthy eating policy. Teachers make very good use of the Discovery Science programme. In 2006, the school received a ‘Discover Science Award’. A large number of the teachers have attended a variety of professional development courses in Science. Such practice is highly commended. It is recommended that these professional development activities be further developed with specific reference to particular teacher talents and expertise across the various strands in Science.
The school also makes effective use of outside speakers. Meteorologists, nature experts, environmental drama groups, experts on exotic wildlife and a mobile farm have all been used to support and extend the range of learning experiences on offer to pupils.
The school has a computer room with a suite of fifteen computers. In addition, ten laptops and a data projector are also in use. Teachers make good use of the internet to research scientific topics and to augment their resources for science lessons. Similarly, good use is made of science software. However, it is recommended that consideration be given to augmenting the range of software available at different class levels for the teaching of Science. The school environment displays many laudable examples of the pupils’ work in Science. The school celebrates this work during science week and also on a designated science day. It is recommended that the school considers greater opportunities for sharing with the wider public the many laudable science experiments and projects observed during the inspection process.
2.2 Resources for Mathematics
A wide range of high quality mathematical equipment is available to support the effective teaching and learning of Mathematics in the school. Resources are easily accessible and are effectively used by most teachers. The extensive range of materials caters for the different strand units of the curriculum and has been accessed from a variety of sources. The pupils and staff also have access to a variety of useful textbooks. The staff prioritised the purchase of equipment as part of their school policy and the evidence available during the evaluation clearly indicated that use of these materials is well planned and is a regular feature of school work. It is recommended that in some instances, activities should be more structured to give maximum benefit to pupil learning. Positive examples of using the local environment and using information and communications technology (ICT) were observed in some classes. It is now recommended that the use of ICT and maths trails should be further expanded throughout the school. The use of the data projector as an instructional tool should be further exploited. The school has a central computer room where pupils can work in pairs on computer software, games and activities to enhance their learning in Mathematics. Software to support Mathematics is catalogued according to the various classes and is easily accessible in the computer room. The school is commended on the provision of this computer suite which is an invaluable resource for pupils and teachers. A section of the display area in all classrooms is devoted to providing a maths corner and includes in all instances suitable charts and materials. However, it is recommended that more teacher-designed charts be provided to complement commercially designed charts The support staff are in this academic year working collaboratively with class teachers during mathematics lessons which is commendable practice. The support is in its infancy and has great potential for success. The key to success in this collaborative setting is very good planning, disposition and evaluation. Teachers need to plan according to the needs of the pupils who require the additional support.
The school plan for Science is very detailed and wide-ranging. It provides many clear guidelines for teachers on approaches to implementing the curriculum. The plan was formulated by the school staff in consultation with a cuiditheoir from the Primary Curriculum Support Programme. It sets out the school’s vision for Science and the key considerations to be taken into account in the teaching of Science. The plan has been ratified by the school’s board of management. It is recommended that a review date be included in the plan. In reviewing the plan, it is also recommended that the role of the science co-ordinator be more clearly delineated. In recognition of the many laudable examples of conservation practices observed during this inspection and in recognition of the seasonal approaches adopted by class teachers, it is also recommended that the plan make more specific reference to conservation activities and seasonal lesson content. The plan makes very good provision for the use of children’s ideas as the starting points for lesson content, for practical investigations, for safety guidelines and for the provision for pupils with special educational needs. In particular, the plan makes very specific provision for knowledge and skill development. Praiseworthy consideration is also given to designing and making activities and to the use of problems as starting points for investigations. Content is clearly delineated in a two year cycle. It is recommended that in reviewing the plan, greater involvement from the school board of management and the school community be elicited. The school is commended on its approach to appointing ‘curriculum caretakers’ with specific staff members being nominated to oversee the implementation and development of the science and mathematics curricula.
A comprehensive whole-school policy in Mathematics has been drafted and formulated in consultation with the staff and the post holders for curriculum development. The policy demonstrates an appropriate representation of all the strands and also reflects the strong commitment throughout the school to using mathematical language consistently. The policy promotes talk and discussion as an integral part of the learning process. It highlights active methodologies and the need for pupils to engage in exploratory activities under the guidance of the teacher. The plan makes good provision for the teaching of problem solving, time allocation, resource availability and the use of assessment modes in the school. The school is in the process of joining a credit union savings scheme and this should provide good learning opportunities for the pupils. This policy is informative and is a very good guide for the classroom practitioner in implementing Mathematics in the school in line with best practice. In reviewing the plan in the future, it is recommended that more specific reference could be made to differentiation and linkage in Mathematics.
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.
All class teachers complete short-term and long-term plans for the teaching of Science. Teachers’ long-term plans outline the lesson content to be covered in a progressional and developmental manner. This content is clearly delineated in all long-term plans. These long-term plans also outline aims and objectives and make appropriate provision for the outline of methodological approaches, differentiation and integration. On the whole, the quality of teachers’ long-term planning is very good, with some exemplary work in this regard also being noted. In the senior classes, pupils do not have a science textbook. Rather, teachers approach lesson content in a thematic way, using textbooks and a variety of other sources as supporting resources. Such an approach is highly commended as it avoids lesson content being derived and dictated by the confines of textbook objectives. It is recommended that the school considers wider possibilities for the adoption of such approaches. Teachers’ short term plans make very appropriate provision for the delineation of lesson content. In some cases, teachers also outline approaches to integration, skills development and differentiation practices. Such practice is commended. It is recommended that teachers’ short term planning make more specific reference to the aforementioned areas and in particular that more definitive reference be made to differentiation strategies. Teachers assess pupil progress in Science in a number of ways. Concept maps, teacher-devised tests and tasks, projects, portfolios and work samples are the primary methods by which such assessment is undertaken. There was considerable variety across class levels on the use and implementation of such approaches. It is recommended that in some cases, teacher planning should make more definitive reference to the use of these approaches.
All teachers provide long-term and short-term plans to support the implementation of the mathematics curriculum. Various examples of effective long-term and short-term planning and monthly progress reports were noted during the evaluation. It is recommended that all teachers plan according to the content objectives of the curriculum and include the headings of methodologies, resources, assessment, differentiation, linkage, integration and skill development. There are examples of teachers working collaboratively in the school and in this regard it is vital that careful planning and preparation takes place to ensure that the needs of the pupils are catered for effectively. All teachers need to be mindful of modifying the curriculum to meet the abilities of all the pupils and hence differentiating the curriculum is of paramount importance in order to cater for the range of needs and abilities within any classroom. As there are many variations of planning materials used by teachers, it is recommended that the school adopts a uniform approach to planning to ensure consistency throughout the school. All teachers celebrate Mathematics in their classrooms but it is recommended that the language of Mathematics be given more of a focus in some classrooms and that there is a balance between commercial charts and teacher designed charts. The systematic approach to assessment articulated in the school plan is reflected in the practice observed. Teachers monitor the progress of pupils through teacher designed tasks, activities, teacher observation, checklists and weekly table tests. Overall, teachers are commended on the presentation of copies and on the careful correction of copies and worksheets. The school is commended on the use of standardised test results to inform teaching and learning.
The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection process was of a very good standard. Pupils displayed interest and curiosity in scientific principles and phenomena. Teachers stimulated such interest and enthusiasm in a number of ways. Lessons were very structured, well prepared and well thought-out. Lesson content was effectively related to the environment and life experience of the pupils. Pupils’ ideas were frequently used as starting points for lessons and in a large number of the lessons observed, their ideas and questions were effectively integrated into the lesson’s development. Lessons also made very good provision for open-ended investigations, demonstrations and investigative work. Teachers made effective use of discussion, whole class teaching and group work. Such discussions made good provision for the use of scientific language. In particular, the use of group work for experimental activities served to develop many of the pupils’ skills as scientists. Pupils partook enthusiastically in a number of experiments which were well chosen to develop and consolidate lesson content. Such experiments were particularly effective in developing the pupils’ skills in the areas of prediction, estimation, analysis, investigation and recording. Teachers are commended for the diligent manner in which they prepared for these experiments. In a number of instances, pupils were encouraged to question scientific phenomena and principles. Such practice is commended. It is recommended that teachers make greater provision for such pupil questions in their lessons. Throughout the school environment and also in individual classroom environments, there was evidence of ongoing experiments. In particular, some laudable examples of designing and making were observed. The school is also commended for its ‘buddy’ approach to the teaching of Science. This involves pupils from senior classes working with junior classes on specific scientific projects. Such work is commended as it celebrates Science at a whole school level. In a number of lessons, pupils were also actively involved in designing the experiments and in evaluating their success. Such practice is commended. It is recommended that the school build on such endeavours by exploring further possibilities for evaluating the factors associated with experimental success.
Teachers make very good use of resources in their lessons. In some instances, teachers use ICT well. It is recommended that teachers explore further possibilities for the use of ICT as a science resource. The manner in which teachers used textbooks as support resources served to create lessons which had a thematic basis, which were creative in design and which paid due regard to the methodological principles of the revised science curriculum. Lessons observed also made very good use of hands-on activities. These activities served to involve the pupils and to promote their enthusiasm for the subject. Science is creatively integrated with a number of other curriculum areas, most notably Mathematics, Geography, English and Art. It was noted during the inspection process that some teachers had particular expertise and enthusiasm for certain strand units in Science. It is recommended that in building on such expertise and enthusiasm, greater consideration be given to team teaching and to methods for exploiting and sharing this expertise among all staff members. Such expertise could be specifically exploited in relation to the teaching of strand units dealing with Energy and Forces.
As part of this evaluation, two sets of tasks were administered to the pupils in a number of classrooms. The first set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ conceptual knowledge. In the strand Living Things, the majority of the pupils assessed displayed mastery of the concepts tested in Myself and Plants and Animals. In Environmental Awareness and Care, the majority of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Environmental Awareness. In the strand dealing with Science and the Environment, almost all of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested. In the strand dealing with Caring for the Environment, the majority of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested. In the strand Energy and Forces, a few of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Forces. Fewer than half of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Light. Most of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Magnetism and Electricity. A few of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Sound. The majority of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Heat. In the strand Materials, most of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Properties and Characteristics of Materials. Most of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Materials and Change. The second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ procedural knowledge. Fewer than half of the pupils displayed mastery of the knowledge and skills required by the task in the lower middle class. Most of the middle and the majority of the senior pupils mastered the objectives required by the task.
On the evidence of classroom observation and pupil responses to tasks, it is recommended that greater consideration be given to strand units dealing with Energy and Forces. It is also recommended that greater consideration be given to concepts related to experimental design and fair testing in the more junior classes.
The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics in most classes is very good. The programme provided for the pupils is developmentally appropriate and socially relevant. Practical activities and the correct application of mathematical language is emphasised in all classes. Pupils are taught in whole class, group and individual settings. Lessons are engaging and encourage experiential learning. The teachers develop the pupils’ understanding of mathematical concepts through activity methods. Pupils display enthusiasm for the subject and are encouraged to learn co-operatively and actively in most classes. Tasks are differentiated in most classes to ensure that the individual needs of the pupils are met. This should be planned for in all classes. In some instances, the planning of tasks should be more specifically linked to the content objectives of the curriculum that best meet the needs of the pupils. As support teachers work collaboratively with some class teachers, careful planning should take place to ensure that the sessions are used to maximum effect for the benefit of the pupils. The support teacher or the class teachers should rotate and work with groups according to the capabilities of the pupils. Throughout the school, pupils are provided with opportunities to use a variety of concrete materials. However, in some instances materials need to be structured more carefully to provide for optimal learning for the pupils. Overall, work in copies is of a high standard. All of the strands of the curriculum are taught and there is evidence of linkage of strands and cross-curricular activities which could be exploited further. Estimation skills are taught with success and there is a problem-solving approach to Mathematics. However, in both instances, more differentiation of the curriculum and more group work would be of benefit to pupil learning. Standardised tests are administered annually and results are used to plan supplementary teaching for those pupils who require additional support in Mathematics. Overall, pupils are achieving well in the subject.
Systematic monitoring of pupils’ progress takes place on both a formal and an informal basis. Standardised test results are administered annually and detailed records of class and individual results are carefully maintained. A comprehensive policy in learning support guides the implementation of support for pupils in both literacy and numeracy. However, the inclusion of lists of resources, notes on differentiation and headings for Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and Individual Pupil Learning Programme (IPLPs) would complement this policy in providing a guide to teachers in supporting pupils with learning needs. The support team consists of two learning support teachers and a part-time resource teacher. At the time of the evaluation, one of the learning support teachers was attending a special education course. This teacher who is involved in the professional development course co-ordinates the learning support in the school but returned to the school to meet with members of the inspectorate during the evaluation. The strengths of the learning support provision in the school are multifarious. In particular, the very good working relations between the class teachers and the support personnel and the move towards in-class support in Mathematics are key strengths of this provision. Other strengths include the caring attitude towards pupils within the school and the co-operation and communication within the staff on matters relating to teaching and learning.
It is recommended that the staff should carefully monitor the numbers of pupils receiving support. A large number of these pupils would not typically fall within the remit of the learning support teacher as some of their test scores are too high for inclusion in such a caseload. The school needs to implement the appropriate criteria for continuing and reducing support levels for pupils. Careful adherence to the support guidelines would allow more focused support for the relatively small numbers of pupils requiring supplementary teaching and would allow differentiated support throughout the school in literacy and numeracy. The early intervention programme deserves credit and is highly commendable. IPLPs are provided for all pupils receiving supplementary teaching. The quality of some of these planning documents is good. However, the content of some of these IPLPs require modification and should be aligned to the specific needs of the pupils and the content objectives of the curriculum. Time should be assigned for planning collaboratively with the class teachers. As some of the support personnel are new to the team, it is recommended that time be invested in such planning and preparation. It is also recommended that work be modified sufficiently and appropriately to suit the needs of the pupils both on a withdrawal basis and during in-class support. Emphasis should be placed on the further use of concrete materials and the development of problem solving with these pupils. A wide range of multi-sensory materials is available for use in support sessions. Money has been invested over time in games, activities and software to provide supplementary tuition to pupils. The quality of record keeping and testing deserves credit. Lessons are delivered in a caring environment and the pupils present as happy and eager during sessions. The quality of the work of the learning support co-ordinator is commendable and the initiatives towards supporting Mathematics in the classrooms are praiseworthy.
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.