An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science and Mathematics
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation: Science and Mathematics 2007
S.N. Cnoc na Manach
Uimhir rolla: 17804L
Date of inspection: 30 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 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 will focus 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 SN Cnoc na Manach. 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 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
SN Cnoc na Manach is a co-educational, rural primary school situated in the village of Minane Bridge, approximately 7km. south of Carrigaline. The last school report was conducted in 2001. At that time there were 139 pupils on roll. The school currently has an enrolment of 121 pupils and it is expected that this figure will increase substantially over the next number of years as there is considerable housing development in the area. This is a major concern for the board of management as it is not possible to provide any additional accommodation on the current site.
There is an urgent need for additional space to facilitate an extension to the existing building. The inadequacy of the current accommodation is well documented in the last report and was highlighted as a key issue for discussion. It is evident that the principal and board have undertaken considerable work with a view to resolving these issues and that their efforts are ongoing. Much credit is due to them for their commitment to the school.
There have been significant changes
in personnel since the last report as a result of
Three members of staff take responsibility for the purchase, storage and the replacement of resources for Science in the school. Many items of equipment have been purchased to date to enable the pupils at each class level to engage in hands-on learning in each area of the science curriculum. Equipment and materials are stored in a central location in the office from which teachers borrow as the need arises. Staff is committed to developing Science on a systematic basis throughout the school. To this end, a valuable environmental audit was produced to facilitate the development of the pupils’ awareness in their environment and encourages them to care for it accordingly. Staff has identified the rich potential of the school garden for the further development of a knowledge of plants.
Current restrictions of space in a number of classrooms limit the staff’s endeavours to exploit the potential of activity-based learning to develop the pupils’ knowledge and skills. Equally, the old and cumbersome state of pupil desks do not lend positively to cultivating group work in an activity-based setting.
The school is committed to providing regular professional development opportunities for staff members in Science. Teachers have participated in science initiatives at local and national levels. Their most recent involvement has been in an induction day for Discover Primary Science under the auspices of Forfás. The school will commendably embark on its Awards of Science Excellence next year. The staff has availed of the services of a cuiditheoir for Science and her excellent service is duly acknowledged by staff in contributing to the development of a comprehensive school plan. Visitors such as personnel from UCC and BIM are welcomed regularly to the school and their added knowledge is utilised productively to enrich the pupils’ knowledge and to further develop teachers’ skills.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and its accompanying software are regularly recognised by staff as a valuable resource in the teaching of Science. Its potential is exploited most efficiently by staff for planning and display purposes, most notably in the use of PowerPoint and the digital camera in giving prominence to pupils’ work. It is expected that the computer will play a more prominent role in the learning in the coming months, and particularly so in the area of recording pupils’ experiments.
Parents express a high level of support for the school. This is evidenced in their sourcing of materials for a variety of science initiatives, in their participation in National Science Week, in their co-operation in the development of the school garden and in their involvement in environmental awareness projects.
The principal has responsibility for co-ordinating Mathematics and deserves much credit for the effective procedures which have been put in place to enable him, in collaboration with staff members, plan and monitor the implementation of the curriculum. He visits the classrooms regularly and liaises frequently with staff regarding various aspects of the curriculum. Agendas for curriculum planning days are carefully organised in advance and minutes are systematically recorded. A wide range of resources for the teaching and learning of Mathematics is made available in the school. A variety of resource books and teaching aids is stored in a central location and, commendably, a sign in/sign out system is in place to maximise their accessibility to staff members. A wide variety of illustrative and concrete materials to support pupils’ learning is provided in the classrooms. ICT resources are also used both in mainstream and in support contexts. Effective use of ICT to create very good quality teaching aids was noted and favourably commented on during the evaluation. It is also particularly praiseworthy that a large variety of open-ended, hands-on learning materials is organised in the infant classrooms in a manner conducive to promoting play for learning. In keeping with best practice, an inventory of the resources available is carefully maintained. During the evaluation good use was made of a wide variety of resources in the presentation of lesson content to enable pupils consolidate their learning in an effective manner. Many high quality teacher-generated materials based on pupils’ interests and experiences were very effectively used. In the interest of building on existing good practice, it is recommended that strategies for using manipulative materials when hands on activities are being undertaken be regularly shared at whole-school level.
3. Quality of school planning in Science and in Mathematics
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.
A key strength of the school is seen in its planning processes. Acutely aware of the value of quality planning in the promotion and maintenance of school development in Science, the coordinating team in conjunction with the principal engage in high quality and purposeful whole school planning on a systematic basis. The school plan was developed over a two-year period and has recently been reviewed. The document is characterised by a detailed degree of practicality and clarity and provides a most valuable guide to classroom planning and practice. Staff has worked closely with the support services such as the Primary Curriculum Support Programme and School Development Planning in developing these plans. Specific reference is made to using pupils’ own perspectives as a starting point for scientific activity and key methodologies and the acquisition of knowledge and skills also feature. Careful consideration has been given to modifying activities for pupils with specific learning difficulties.
Structures are in place at staff meetings that allow for regular review and discussion. As needs are identified an action plan is devised to ensure that these needs are addressed. Of late, plants and animals and environmental awareness have been identified by staff in their action planning as areas to be further developed, and management are actively targeting expert personnel to aid them in this process. In the further development of the school plan, staff is advised to develop a conservation code that will guide activity in exploring the environment.
The school plan also identifies a variety of assessment procedures, that include teacher observation, teacher devised tasks, concept mapping, projects and the maintenance of pupils’ work in portfolios. Results are used formatively in the development of assessment for learning on a whole school basis
As highlighted in the last school report, there is a high level of collaboration within the staff in this school. The principal and staff are to be commended for the effective systems they have in place to enable them review and develop the work of their school. Curriculum planning features prominently at staff meetings and the practice of maintaining records of key decisions taken is well established. Individual staff members are assigned responsibility for specific curriculum areas. Through review and discussion staff development needs are identified and the support services are accessed and used to good effect. Copies of school plans are accessible to all partners and are provided on CD to staff members. A very good whole-school plan for Mathematics has been carefully formulated and was ratified by the board of management on 20/6/05. This plan clearly outlines the learning outcomes for each class level and provides a wide range of useful guidelines to support teachers implement the curriculum. Time for the teaching of Mathematics is appropriately allocated. In keeping with best practice, whole-school approaches for key areas such as mathematical language, teaching of number operations, and presentation of written work are addressed. It is the intention of the staff to build on the work in progress by the establishment of further whole-school initiatives in the area of numeracy and by the use of assessment data to regularly review particular aspects of the plan.
3.3 Classroom planning
The quality of teachers’ individual written preparation is impressive and teachers are commended for their thorough preparation of schemes of work. Objectives are notably informed by the school plan and are duly referenced to Primary School Curriculum (1999) and its constituent strands and strand units.
The practice of using a common format to record monthly progress in the delivery of the curriculum is well established in the school. Following a recent School Developmental Planning day a new combined fortnightly/monthly progress record template has been designed and is currently in use. The total record is maintained by a member of the middle management team. It is particularly commendable that the work undertaken is recorded in terms of the skills and concepts developed at each class level and that these records can be easily analysed for whole school purposes. It is also noteworthy that reflective comments are usefully included by individual teachers. It is recommended that a regular whole-school review of classroom planning should aim to maintain the good practice in evidence and further ensure that the data arising from monthly progress records is systematically used by the staff to monitor the impact of school planning on pupil learning.
Science lessons were observed in the four strands with the strand Materials having a Designing and Making focus. In their vision statement staff seeks to foster the pupils’ natural curiosity by providing opportunities to develop skills and understanding of scientific concepts. Their efforts to date are characterised by a high level of success. The teachers are to be commended on their creation of a classroom environment that supports learning in Science. Illustrative materials, including those based on the immediate locality are used effectively and samples of pupils’ writing and drawing on Science topics are displayed and celebrated. ICT is used efficiently in a number of classes for display purposes. Nature and investigation tables feature in some classes and this practice is to be encouraged throughout the school. Staff members are to be applauded for their involvement in the Green Schools initiative and they are ably supported by members of the Tidy Towns committee. This makes for a very productive partnership in the development of pupils’ environmental awareness. Events are regularly celebrated by the school contributing articles to the local Tracton newsletter.
A very good standard of teaching was observed in all classes. Lessons were well structured and developed, objectives were clearly explained and overall the lessons were well paced. Pupils’ ideas were elicited at the beginning of each lesson and effective teacher pupil interaction was in evidence throughout. Teachers’ communication skills were very effective and skilful questioning, together with explanation and instruction challenged pupils at all levels. Teachers make a commendable effort to involve all pupils, regularly adapting their approaches to meet the needs of less able pupils, including those with special needs. A central feature of the learning is evidenced in the designing and making activities, with its exemplary emphasis on hands-on activity. Teachers employ a variety of methodologies that embrace in particular, working with concrete materials, talk and discussion, demonstration, undertaking experiments and engaging in open-ended investigative work. This contributes in no small way to creditable learning in the development of higher order thinking skills for pupils. Science lessons are regularly and successfully integrated with other curricular areas, and most particularly evidenced in Geography and in the Visual Arts.
In all classes pupils are challenged by the activities and benefit greatly from the active and discovery based lessons. They regularly undertake project work in Science and in other SESE curricular areas. Their scientific skills are developed effectively and they demonstrate a growing understanding of concepts. Their work on display is of commendable quality, and shows careful recording in copies and portfolios.
As part of this evaluation, two sets of tasks were administered to the pupils in infants to sixth
class. The first set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ conceptual knowledge. In the strand Materials, most pupils mastered the concept of Properties and Characteristics of Materials, while fewer than half had developed mastery of the concept of Materials and Change. In Environmental Awareness and Care, most pupils achieved mastery in Caring for My Locality. In the strand Energy and Forces, almost all of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concept of Heat. The majority of pupils achieved mastery in Force, and in Sound, and fewer than half demonstrated mastery in Light, and in Magnetism and Electricity. In the strand Living Things, most pupils demonstrated mastery in Human Life, and the majority of pupils achieved mastery in Plant and Animal Life.
The second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ procedural knowledge. Results were very consistent, with a small number achieving mastery in the senior, in the middle, and in the junior classes. Results also indicate that a small number can plan fair tests in both the middle and senior classes
In general, pupils are making good progress in Science. The staff has shown admirable commitment to the promotion of science activities and to the development of pupils’ skills and understanding. Overall the majority of pupils achieve mastery in conceptual knowledge. Arising from the assessment tests it appears that there is scope for development in cultivating pupils’ procedural knowledge and in developing pupils’ abilities to plan fair tests.
4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics
The quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics observed during the evaluation was very good. Purposeful teaching and high levels of pupil participation were observed throughout the school. Due emphasis was placed on linking the work in progress to the pupils’ own experiences and to real life practical situations. Many commendable strategies in relation to catering for pupils’ individual needs were noted. Judicious use was made of textbook material. Despite significant space restrictions and outdated classroom furniture, the teachers provide mathematics rich environments throughout the school and are to be highly commended for their dedicated work. Pupils’ work in Mathematics was commendably displayed in classrooms and circulation areas.
Careful consideration is given to the teaching of all strands. Structured play and exploration with a wide range of materials appropriately features prominently in the infant programmes, and early mathematical activities are very well established. Mathematical language is explicitly taught and pupils are given worthwhile opportunities to engage in estimation and problem solving activity. A significant emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ knowledge of number facts. In many classrooms an impressive range of strategies and games is skilfully used to enable pupils develop their skills in an interactive enjoyable manner. In some classrooms teacher-designed hands-on games are regularly used to revise areas taught, to enable pupils make linkages between the various strand units and to reinforce concepts. This practice is particularly commendable. Appropriately, the use of concrete materials features prominently. Particularly skilful use of these materials was observed in a number of classrooms during guided discussion and during teacher directed hands-on active learning approaches. It is recommended that the use of these approaches be further developed on a whole-school basis with a view to further addressing pupils’ diverse learning needs within the mainstream classrooms.
The teachers monitor the pupils’ work carefully and it is evident that many are making good progress in Mathematics. Pupils are encouraged to record and present their work neatly. They are regularly affirmed and given positive feedback for improvement. Effective practice in relation to the use of assessment data to inform planning, teaching and learning was noted. In keeping with best practice, profiles of individual pupil’s progress are systematically maintained. In addition to standardised tests, teacher-designed tests are regularly administered and the results are carefully recorded and used by the principal and teachers for diagnostic purposes. Parents are also given regular opportunities to view their childrens’ work and to discuss their progress both formally and informally. The practice of encouraging parents to sign pupils’ work is to be commended. During the evaluation the importance of assessment for learning was discussed and attention was focused on the recently developed NCCA Draft Report Card Templates
4.3 Quality of support for pupils in Mathematics
Additional support is provided for pupils in Mathematics. A whole-school plan for learning support and resource has been formulated and provides a sound basis for the development of effective practice in support teaching. The principal and board of management are to be complemented on the good use they have made of Department grants to provide high-quality temporary accommodation for pupils in receipt of supplementary teaching. Two rooms are provided and present as stimulating and well-organised learning environments. In keeping with Department guidelines, assessment data is used to select those pupils most in need of support. Pupils are withdrawn in small groups and support is also provided within some mainstream classrooms. Good quality teaching and learning were observed in all support contexts during the evaluation.
A number of pupils have made significant progress and, consequently, are no longer receiving learning support. In keeping with good practice, Individual Education Plans or Group plans, as appropriate, are collaboratively prepared for pupils in receipt of supplementary teaching. Specific learning targets, based on pupils’ priority learning areas, are clearly outlined and are underpinned by ongoing focused short-term planning and progress records. Commendably, these plans are formally reviewed at the end of each term of instruction. Pupils’ current levels of performance are recorded regularly. Effective practice in relation to recording pupils’ performance levels in precise terms was favourably commented on during the evaluation and it is recommended that in the interest of maximising pupil progress this good practice should be extended to all support contexts. It is also recommended that the current good practice of providing in-class support within mainstream classrooms be extended.
Currently the principal is undertaking the duties of the learning-support-teacher. His qualifications in the area of remedial education and his dedication to his teaching duties are acknowledged and he is commended for his diligence. However this arrangement is not in keeping with Department guidelines. It is recommended that a policy on class rotation be developed and that when personnel are allocated to special education posts the provisions of Circular 07/03 14 (b) should be adhered to.
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:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
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.