An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Curriculum Implementation Evaluation: Science and Mathematics 2006/07

Report

 

Gerald Griffin National School,

Loughill, Co. Limerick

Uimhir rolla: 17814O

 

Date of inspection:  22 November 2006

Date of issue of report:  26 April 2007

 

Introduction

1. School background and context

2. Provision and use of resources

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

3.1 Whole-school planning in Science

3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics

3.3 Classroom planning

4. Quality of learning and teaching in Science and Mathematics

4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science

4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics

4.3 Quality of support for pupils in 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 Gerald Griffin National School, Loughill. Co. Limerick. 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 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

 

Gerald Griffin National School is a four-teacher co-educational school under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Limerick. The school caters for pupils from the local village and rural hinterland and aims to promote and cultivate a strong sense of the pupils’ inherent strengths and to nurture them to become socially aware citizens.

 

There are 59 pupils enrolled. The staff includes three mainstream class teachers and a learning support teacher. A shared resource teacher for pupils with special educational needs provides supplementary teaching for three pupils for ten hours weekly.

 

There is a very positive climate in evidence in this school. The teachers collaborate closely with each other and have succeeded in creating an environment that nurtures innovation, respect for pupils and teachers and a high level of professional commitment.

 

 

2. Provision and use of resources

 

The school provides a stimulating learning environment for the pupils. The interior and exterior of the school are well maintained. Externally the school has a wildlife area, an alder grove, a school garden, a wormery and landscaped gardens which are well maintained.

These areas are used to support the implementation of the science curriculum at different periods during the school year.

The school is cleaned twice each week. It is recommended that the school should be cleaned on a daily basis. The classrooms are small and there is a lack of storage facilities. 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 provision of additional accommodation to provide for the needs of the pupils.

 

A wide range of materials is provided in all areas of the curriculum and the school is well-resourced in the areas of Science and Mathematics. The learning support room is very-well equipped with a range of literacy materials, games and concrete materials. The school plan for Mathematics and Science contains a policy on the purchase, storage, and use of resources. Specific personnel have been assigned to monitor equipment and maintain an inventory of resources for both curricular areas.

 

The local environment is used effectively in the teaching of Science and the pupils visit local industries, factories, farms, rivers and churches as part of the programme. External experts contribute to the science curriculum and work with the staff on projects such as bird watching, exploring trees, and developing the school garden.

 

 

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

 

This is an innovative staff that has expended much energy on school development and improvement. The teachers work closely with the support services and the local educational centre to continuously contribute to their professional development.

Significant attention has been given to school self-review, action planning and planning diaries. The school plan is developed collaboratively and the staff works with parents, the board of management and the support services such as the Primary Curriculum Support Programme and School Development Planning. The implementation of the curricular plans in Mathematics and Science has been reviewed by the staff and an action plan for development is in place for the current school year.

 

3.1 Whole-school planning in Science

 

The quality of the whole-school planning in Science is good. The plan was devised by staff in 2003 as a result of a collaborative planning process and was disseminated to the board of management. The school plan outlines the knowledge the children will acquire and the skills that will be developed at each class level. The four strands of the science curriculum are covered on a two-year basis. The potential for the school’s immediate environment is explored successfully and this is a central element of the life of the school. Further attention needs to be given in the plan to providing opportunities for pupils to engage in investigation, fair testing and designing and making on a regular basis.   

 

A commendable aspect of the plan includes success criteria for continuous improvement and a review date for the plan is outlined. 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. The principal is praised for the support she affords to the implementation of the science programme.

 

The staff has engaged in professional development in Science. Individual staff members attend in-service courses in Science. Parents are encouraged to support the school’s programme by providing consumable materials, to contribute to specific lessons and local and national experts are invited to the school to contribute to the programme undertaken.

 


3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics

 

A comprehensive school plan for Mathematics has been devised. The plan is structured so that the programme is based on the strands and strand units of the curriculum. It 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 and pupils who are exceptionally able in 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 mathematical trails, information and communication technologies (ICT) and the local environment have been considered. The plan shows how linkages will be made among the strands of the mathematics curriculum. Each class teacher is responsible for assigned equipment in their respective classes.

 

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. The whole-school plans for Mathematics and Science are used effectively by the mainstream class teachers in classroom planning for Science and Mathematics. Long term plans are based on the strands and the strand units and curriculum objectives are outlined and content is specified. Templates for short-term planning have been agreed and the teachers plan the methodologies, objectives, and resources that they will use in each lesson. These plans also outline the language of Science or Mathematics that will be developed and they highlight how integration will be achieved and the assessment modes that will be used.

 

Monthly progress records are maintained by teachers and these outline the aspects of the curriculum covered. These records should be maintained in the school for a period of one year and should be used to ensure continuity and progression from class to class and should assist in the monitoring of the implementation of the curriculum.

 

 

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, energy and forces and materials with a designing and making focus. The lessons, in general, were well-prepared and presented in most classrooms in a very structured manner. The teachers used a variety of methodologies effectively in the lessons including talk and discussion, teacher demonstration, experimentation, the use of concrete materials and work in the local environment. The most effective teaching observed was when pupils were actively involved in thinking through and carrying out scientific enquiry. However, this methodology should now be included as a central component of lessons at all class levels.

 

Pupils with learning difficulties or special educational needs are supported in different ways during the science lessons: the special needs assistant works with groups of children to undertake experiments and activities, mixed ability groups are organised so that pupils support each other and the class teachers provide differentiated support throughout the lessons. Pupils with exceptional abilities are encouraged to use a variety of sources to access additional background information on the lessons taught. Additional opportunities should be provided for these pupils to work on more challenging open-ended investigations during science lessons.

 

In all classes a range of resources was used and the pupils worked collaboratively in groups or pairs. In general, the pupils undertook experiments that were linked to the topics planned by the teacher. Designing and making is included in the programme and this work is integrated with Visual Arts. In all lessons praiseworthy emphasis was placed on acquiring science language and science concepts are explained with care. During the lessons some emphasis was given to developing scientific skills. It is recommended that additional emphasis should be given to developing the skills of investigation at all class levels.

 

Teachers demonstrated good abilities to question pupils and to encourage pupils to ask questions. Some attention is given to eliciting children’s ideas during the lessons but it is recommended that further attention may be given to further exploring children’s concepts and scientific ideas. In particular, pupils’ ideas should be established at the start of the lesson or the topic and the development of scientific concepts should be monitored throughout the series of lessons taught on each topic.  

 

In general, pupils are making good progress in Science. Most pupils were able to complete tasks on magnetism in the infant classes. However, only a small minority of pupils completed tasks on materials successfully. In the middle classes pupils demonstrated a fair knowledge of the topics that had been taught. The pupils had some awareness of concepts related to living things but these concepts required further consolidation and development. The pupils were unfamiliar with planning fair tests and with undertaking investigations. In the senior classes pupils demonstrated a good knowledge of concepts in energy and forces. Pupils in the senior classes were competent in designing open investigations and were able to plan for variables in their investigations.

 

Assessment in Science is undertaken at the end of each term and teacher-devised tests are prepared. Teacher observation is undertaken and the participation of pupils in various activities is noted by the teachers and this information is shared with parents.

 

 

4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics

 

The quality of teaching in Mathematics in the majority of classrooms is good or very good. Elements of good practice observed in these classrooms included the use of a variety of methodologies, the use of concrete materials, the linking of concepts to the children’s experiences and emphasis on the language of Mathematics.

 

In the junior classes a conscientious effort is made to extend children’s progress across all strands of the curriculum. Further attention however, needs to be given to the structure and pace of the lessons so that the pupils are given sufficient opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills. Consolidation and review need to be included as essential elements of all lessons.

Lessons in the middle classes were good. Appropriate emphasis was placed on whole-class and group teaching, the pupils were motivated and involved in the lessons and the structure and pace of the lessons was good. The pupils’ work is regularly monitored and copies were corrected. Good emphasis was placed on the language of Mathematics.

 

Lessons in the senior classes were very good and a very structured approach to the teaching of Mathematics is undertaken. Excellent attention was given to the development of the language of Mathematics. The methodologies observed included talk and discussion, the development of skills through content, active learning and problem-solving. Appropriate concrete materials were provided during the lessons and the pupils’ learning in Mathematics was linked productively so that emphasis was placed on several strands of the curriculum in one lesson. Pupils’ understanding was explored and developed throughout the lesson and differentiated supports were provided. The pupils were provided with opportunities to work collaboratively on mathematical tasks. Review and consolidation were features of the lessons at various stages.

 

There was a wide variation in pupils’ level of achievement in Mathematics in the junior classes.  Pupils were confident in counting and in the identification of colour, but experienced difficulty with place value, time and pattern. The standard of the pupils’ learning in the middle classes was good. Pupils demonstrated a good knowledge of concepts in number, data and shape and space. They had a secure knowledge of mathematical language. There was commendable emphasis on developing oral Mathematics. The quality of pupils’ learning in the senior classes was very good. Both boys and girls displayed high levels of motivation and engagement in the lessons. Pupils’ responses to oral questioning were notable. The pupils demonstrated good knowledge of concepts in all strands of the curriculum and were very competent in their use of mathematical language. The pupils’ copies are well monitored and the standards of pupil achievement are very commendable.

 

The teachers use a variety of assessment methods in Mathematics. These include 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 school has documented policies on the admission, enrolment and participation of pupils with special educational needs. These are informative and are in accordance with the schools’ caring ethos. The staged model of intervention in identifying needs and in supporting pupils is implemented. The school’s early intervention policy ensures that support activities are firmly based upon the pupils’ learning needs. A clear policy on diagnostic testing in literacy is outlined the learning support policy.

 

The special needs’ team consists of a full-time learning support-resource teacher and a resource teacher who is shared with two nearby schools. There is also a conscientious special needs assistant who assists class teachers in a variety of ways and her contribution is most appreciated by the staff.

 

The learning support/resource teacher provides a comprehensive programme to support pupils in literacy and numeracy. She works with pupils in the mainstream classroom and she also withdraws pupils to the learning support room for more individual support. The learning support room is attractive and a stimulating learning environment with a display of colourful print-rich material is created.  The teacher collaborates closely with the class teachers and she delivers a supplementary programme that is modified appropriately to the needs of pupils and is well-matched to their abilities. As a result, the pupils are making good progress. It is recommended that a more consistent system of recording the progress of pupils be undertaken. 

The resource teacher caters for the literacy needs of three children in the low-incidence category. The pupils are making steady progress. In the main these children are withdrawn individually from class. Careful individual educational plans are prepared and daily records of progress are maintained. It is also recommended that copies of the individual education plans should be provided to the principal and to all relevant class teachers. It is recommended that the resource teacher extend his programme to incorporate numeracy. The provision of in-class support should also be considered and an increase in the cohort of children receiving support is suggested within the current allocation of hours. It is recommended that the resource teacher should liaise with parents of pupils receiving additional supports and inform them of the programme of work and the specific targets which will be undertaken with each pupil during the instructional term.  Additionally, structured time should be identified when class teachers and the resource teacher can meet to plan co-ordinated programmes of support for pupils.

 

 

5. Future development of Science and Mathematics

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

  • The teachers are committed to school improvement and development and embrace change.
  • The leadership from the principal in curricular and administrative issues is very good.
  • Whole-school planning is very good and the collaborative approach adopted is noteworthy.
  • The school climate is very positive. The indoor and outdoor environments are attractive and there is a strong emphasis on the school garden.
  • Pupils’ behaviour and application to tasks and their engagement in the learning process is excellent.
  • The quality of teaching is good and the school achieves high standards in Mathematics
  • A commendable approach to the teaching of Science is adopted.

 

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.
  • Additional emphasis should be placed on consolidation and review in the infant and junior classes in Mathematics and in Science.
  • The school should be cleaned on a daily basis and additional accommodation should be provided to cater for the educational needs of the pupils.
  • All individual education plans should be available to the principal and to the staff, regular meetings with teachers and parents to discuss pupils’ progress should be convened. It is recommended that resource teaching should be provided in-class, pupils’ progress should be monitored regularly and the programme should be expanded to include more pupils and to provide support in numeracy.

 

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.