An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2006
Name of School
Scoil Mhuire, Brierhill, Castlegar, Galway
Roll Number: 17845C
Date of inspection: 23 November 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science has undertaken an evaluation of learning and teaching in Science and Mathematics in a sample of schools nationally. This evaluation is the third in a series of thematic evaluations of aspects of the Primary School Curriculum and part of an ongoing review of curriculum implementation in primary schools. The evaluation focuses on learning and teaching 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 the enhancement of pupils’ learning experiences and levels of achievement.
Two inspectors were involved in the evaluation in Scoil Mhuire, Brierhill. The evaluation involved 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 learning support 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Scoil Mhuire, Brierhill is located on the eastern outskirts of Galway city. This was formerly a rural school but the population of the catchment area has grown dramatically in the past decade. The school now has an administrative principal, eight mainstream class teachers and two learning-support teachers. Resource teaching and the teaching of English to international pupils are provided by a part-time teacher. At the time of the evaluation there are 233 pupils enrolled here. The school staff also includes a special-needs assistant, secretary and caretaker/cleaner.
The existing school accommodation does not meet the needs of the current school population and a building project is about to commence on the site. At the time of the evaluation, several classes are being taught in the small classrooms in the original schoolhouse. Two classes are taught in a more recent extension and a number of classes are being taught in temporary classrooms. The lack of space in classrooms and the absence of an indoor general-purposes area mean that the teachers have been operating in a challenging working environment in recent years.
The school is commendably active in engaging with parents and the wider community. A quarterly newsletter informs parents of school events and also provides updates on the development of the school plan. The school parents’ association is active in fundraising and in providing assistance with the school’s extra-curricular programme. The school has a relationship with local companies that are involved in Science based activities such as engineering and the design and manufacture of medical devices. This liaison is the basis for various educational projects that support the implementation of the Science curriculum. The principal and staff are to be congratulated on the initiative that has been shown in this area.
With regard to physical resources, the school is to be commended for the investment that has been made in equipment and materials for the teaching of Science. It is clear that the school has sufficient resources to support hands-on learning activities in the various strands of the Science curriculum. Equipment and materials are stored in a central location, from which teachers borrow as the need arises. At present, the principal teacher is responsible for ordering Science equipment and materials, while auditing and managing the equipment on a day-to-day basis is the responsibility of the Science coordinator. It is recommended that the school consider making one person responsible for ordering, managing, auditing and reordering materials and equipment for Science.
The school’s immediate natural environment is a valuable resource for learning about Living Things. Staff members have conducted an environmental audit on an uncultivated area near the school. It is not evident, however, that this is used to develop the pupils’ knowledge and skills. It is recommended that the school grounds be developed as a resource for learning in Science as soon as construction work is completed. This might include the planting of native trees and the development of a school garden.
The most valuable resource the school has is its human resource. The school provides regular professional-development opportunities for staff members in Science. Some teachers have participated in Science initiatives at local and national levels. Several of these projects have included induction days for the teachers involved. It is recommended that the school ensure that as many teachers as possible participate directly in these projects. It is recommended also that the school provide structured opportunities for these teachers to share what they have learned with colleagues.
The responsibilities attached to the post of Science co-ordinator include developing and reviewing the Science plan and the Science safety statement as well as auditing the Science equipment. It is recommended that this post be broadened to provide overall curricular leadership in Science. Responsibilities might include the co-ordination of the following activities: the development and use of the school grounds as a resource for learning; the use of textbooks, computer software and other classroom resources; participation in Science projects; sharing of knowledge and skills among colleagues. There is evidence to suggest that there is a need to devote further attention to those areas.
It is recommended that the responsibilities of post-holders be stated in the school plan. It is particularly important that responsibilities for leadership in the various curricular areas be defined clearly. It is recommended that all posts of responsibility include a combination of curricular, organisational and pastoral responsibilities.
The school provides a range of appropriate mathematical equipment, illustrative materials, text books and teacher-reference books. There is evidence of effective practice in the management and use of these resources. All classrooms have displays of charts and provide number rich environments. It is recommended that there be more widespread use of charts to support the pupils’ use of mathematical vocabulary. The school plan states that the use of ICT in Mathematics will be a priority when the school’s current building project is completed. The potential of the school’s environment as a resource for learning in Mathematics has not yet been explored. It is recommended that Mathematics trails be developed and used at all class levels.
Staff members have attended courses on methodologies for teaching Mathematics, catering for pupils with specific learning disabilities and the teaching of Mathematics to pupils with autism. The school has availed of the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) “cuiditheoir” service in the development of the school plan for Mathematics and the implementation of specific strands of the Mathematics curriculum.
The Science section of the school plan was formulated in March 2005. It commences with a vision statement and aims for the teaching of Science. Some of the aims, concerning recycling and liaison with local industries, are commendably specific to the school. These are developed further in a useful policy statement on community links. The school plan outlines the structure of the Primary Science Curriculum and its key emphases. There is a useful Science safety statement. The plan lists the topics to be taught at each class level and the relevant resources. There is no evidence of planning for the use of the school grounds or local habitats.
It is recommended that the school plan for Science be revised, with a view to making it more specific to the needs and resources of Scoil Mhuire, Brierhill and more useful in guiding classroom practice. It is recommended, for example, that the plan make reference to the activities to be undertaken by each class in local habitats and the intended learning outcomes of these activities. It would also be extremely useful if the school’s progressive policy regarding liaison with local industry was set out clearly in terms of rationale, activities to be undertaken and the classes that are to be involved. The school policy with regard to planning and recording by individual teachers is set out in extremely brief terms. It is recommended that this policy be revised with a view to ensuring that all teachers prepare adequately for their work.
The development of the school plan for Mathematics has involved collaboration among staff members and the support of a PCSP “cuiditheoir”. The policy has been ratified by the board of management and its review and development form part of the responsibilities of the deputy principal. The plan outlines curriculum objectives for each class level in all strands of the Mathematics curriculum. It also includes guidelines and resource documents from the various support agencies. A comprehensive list of mathematical language for each class level has been added, as well as a section on adapting learning programmes for children with special needs. An inventory of the school’s mathematical equipment and materials has been compiled. The plan was reviewed in December 2005. It is recommended that a further review would make reference to the use of the school environment as a resource for learning in Mathematics. It is recommended, for example, that Mathematics trails be developed.
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.
The quality of teachers’ individual written preparation varies considerably from class to class.
Teachers’ long-term planning generally reflects the structure and language of the Primary School Curriculum. Some teachers are to be commended for the high quality of their long-term plans, which make reference to methodologies, resources, assessment and differentiation. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes. Increased attention to the differentiation of programme content will be of particular benefit to pupils with special needs and pupils whose first language is not English.
Short-term planning in some classrooms is of a high standard. In others, the plans do not state intended learning outcomes, or make any reference to methodologies, differentiation or assessment. It is recommended that these areas be included in the short-term plans of all teachers. All pupils would benefit from more planning for the teaching and consolidation of mathematical vocabulary.
Teachers keep monthly accounts of work completed. The school plan requires teachers to state what pupils have learned and to describe the methodologies and modes of assessment used. In many cases, however, the monthly records do not provide useful information on pupil learning. It is recommended that all monthly records state clearly what pupils have learned.
In order to guarantee that all pupils in the school have the benefit of appropriate learning programmes, the school should ensure that all teachers prepare adequately for their work. Among other things, this will require the inclusion in the school plan of a clear, detailed statement of what is required of individual teachers in the areas of planning and recording.
Some of the teachers are to be commended on their provision of a classroom environment that supports learning in Science. Illustrative materials are used effectively to reinforce learning. Samples of pupils’ writing and drawing on Science topics are displayed and celebrated. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all classrooms.
In some classrooms, pupils are engaged in practical hands-on activity for much of the Science lesson. In others, there is insufficient practical work for the successful development of skills and concepts. Some teachers use a variety of methodologies during the lesson. In other classrooms, however, there is an over-reliance on whole-class teaching with few opportunities for the development of the pupils’ communicative and collaborative skills. There is evidence of very good work in the area of Designing and Making. Appropriate materials are provided and the pupils undertake the practical work in groups. It is recommended, however, that there be an increased focus on the development of the skills required in the exploring and planning stages of the process.
It is recommended that the pupils in all classes be given regular opportunities to undertake practical Science activities in small groups. It is evident from observation that lessons in some classrooms would be improved if greater consideration was given to the intended learning outcomes. It is evident also that some pupils would benefit from additional guidance and monitoring with regard to the organisation and presentation of their written work.
The school is to be commended for the regular participation of pupils and teachers in projects such as the K’Nex Challenge and the organisation of visits from representatives of Science-based organisations. These activities support the implementation of the curriculum as well as fostering an appreciation of the value of Science to society.
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, half of the pupils assessed displayed mastery of the concept tested in Human Life but only a few demonstrated mastery of the concept tested in Plant and Animal Life. In Energy and Forces, most of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concept tested in Heat. Fewer than half demonstrated mastery of the concept tested in Forces. A small number demonstrated mastery of the concept tested in Electricity and Magnetism, and Sound. None of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concept tested in Light. There was evidence that most of the pupils have mastered the concepts assessed in Environmental Awareness and Care.
The second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ procedural knowledge. A majority of senior pupils displayed mastery of the knowledge and skills required by the task. In the middle and junior classes, the number of pupils who had mastered the objectives ranged from half of the pupils in one class to just a few pupils in another class.
On the evidence of classroom observation and pupil responses to tasks, it is recommended that greater consideration be given to the intended learning outcomes of Science lessons, and to curriculum objectives in particular. Teachers should ensure that their class programme is in accordance with the objectives of the Primary School Curriculum and the school plan. Activities and resources should be chosen and used accordingly.
In Mathematics, pupils in most classes are encouraged to work independently, individually and in small groups as appropriate. Effective questioning skills are used to stimulate higher-order thinking. From the lessons observed, it is evident that there is generally an appropriate amount of discussion during lessons. It is recommended, however, that further time and resources be devoted to teaching mathematical vocabulary and eliciting this vocabulary from the pupils. This is particularly important for pupils whose first language is not English.
The methods used to monitor pupils’ progress include teacher observation, teacher-designed tasks, work samples and standardised tests. The results of these tests should be monitored carefully to identify patterns and trends in achievement. These results should be used as the basis for planning subsequent programmes of work. In most cases, pupils’ written work is monitored regularly and is neatly presented. Pupils in some classes require additional guidance, however, in the organisation and presentation of their written work.
Pupils' achievement in Mathematics is good. They respond well to simple tasks and questions in the strands Number, Shape and Space, Algebra and Data. Pupils in some classes would benefit from further work on the Measures strand, with particular emphasis on developing their skills of estimation. The provision of more practical learning opportunities in this strand is also recommended.
The position of learning-support teacher is rotated among the staff at intervals of several years. This ensures that all teachers gain experience and expertise in working closely with pupils with learning difficulties. There are two learning-support teachers in the school, both of whom provide support in the area of numeracy. Appropriate individual learning programmes are prepared and implemented for some of the pupils who receive supplementary tuition in Mathematics. It is recommended strongly that the school ensure that effective planning and recording be completed for all pupils who receive learning support.
There is evidence that the tuition provided is generally effective and that it is relevant, in most cases, to the pupils’ needs. In some cases, however the absence of individual profiles and learning programmes makes it difficult to address pupils’ needs. There is good use of a range of teacher-made resources. It is recommended that number-rich environments be created in both learning-support rooms, that pupils have regular access to computer software to reinforce mathematical concepts and that a range of commercially-available resources be acquired. It is also recommended that a much wider variety of diagnostic tests be used to identify pupils’ individual needs and to measure their progress.
The school’s current model for learning support involves the pupils leaving their classrooms for supplementary teaching. It is recommended that, when the building project has been completed, the school explore the benefits of the learning-support teacher working alongside the class teacher with a view to delivering support to targeted pupils in their own classrooms.
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 the chairperson of the board of management, at which 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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The B.O.M. wishes to acknowledge the main strengths identified in the report and commends the staff on their excellent work, which has and is still being carried out in a truly challenging working environment.
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 teaching staff acknowledges the key recommendation with regard to:
Revision of Science Plan
Restructuring of I.S.M. & Posts
More detailed policy on individual teachers planning
Addressing the objectives of the teaching of Science & increasing the focus on the development of skills.
The design of maths trails and developing the pupils use of mathematical language.
It will not however be feasible to implement and develop all the recommendations while we are in cramped temporary accommodation.