An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Scoil na Maighdine Muire
Roll Number: 17906T
Date of inspection: 15 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
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 na Maighdine Muire. 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 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.
Scoil na Maighdine Muire is a Marist convent primary school located on the Dublin road in the town of Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim. It was built in 1953 on the convent grounds. Current staffing comprises a lay administrative principal, eight assistant mainstream class teachers, a full-time special education teacher, two resource teachers for travellers (RTT) and three language support teachers. Two full-time special needs assistants (employed to support pupils who have special educational needs), a part-time secretary and a part-time caretaker complete the staffing roster. The school has a current enrolment of 242 pupils. Over a quarter of the pupils enrolled in the school come from other countries and the school is catering very well for them. Pupils come from the town and its hinterland. Boys transfer to the local boys’ national school at the end of first class. Scoil na Maighdine Muire is one of five schools in the parish.
School accommodation comprises an L shaped building. It houses ten classrooms of which two are used as a base for the special education teacher and the language support teachers. Both the resource teachers for travellers and the school secretary work in small rooms adjacent to the principal’s office. The staffroom close to the main entrance caters adequately for a staff of this size. The school grounds are large due to the generosity of the Marist order which gave a large portion of ground to the school for recreational purposes. Parking facilities for staff is limited due to an increase in staffing recently. Discussion is ongoing in relation to expanding parking facilities to the front of the school.
The school is active in engaging with parents and the wider community. Parents are involved in supporting the formulation of policies. The staff and pupils prepare a float for the annual St Patrick’s Day parade and they had a scientific theme this year related to the environment. The school participates in the Junior Achievement awards and lessons are facilitated by personnel from the Bank of America and Leitrim County Council. Pupils undertake local trips to the library, the park and the new cultural centre which is named the Dock. Senior pupils participated recently in a workshop on renewable energy in the cultural centre. Pupils sing in the school choir and perform at the annual Holy Thursday mass which was broadcast nationally this year, and at many local events such as party events in the local branch of the Bank of America. Some pupils have been selected to become members of a local choir. Auditions took place across a number of schools and pupils from Scoil na Maighdine Muire were chosen to participate. The quality of the choir singing in the school is excellent. Senior pupils are involved in drama performances through Irish and the quality of the production as witnessed during the evaluation was good. French classes are provided in the school and the staff makes every effort to involve parents from other countries in the life of the school. Plans are in place to host an international evening shortly. Pupils are taught the tin whistle in school and pupils are commended on their achievement. The school is involved in the Green School’s Project and the pupils are familiarising the adults at home with the content of the programme they are learning in school. The emphasis has been on recycling. The school hosted an art exhibition recently for the parents and community where each pupil in the school had her painting or drawing exhibited. Parents were able to purchase the framed art piece and some of the proceeds went towards the school. The school also involves itself in the FÍS project run through the local education centre. These are all praiseworthy ways of involving the school in the local community. Carrick-on-Shannon Education Centre was housed in this school for many years. The school is used by local groups for evening classes and by the local community drama group for rehearsals. This school is central in the community and serves its pupils very well.
2.1 Resources for Science
There is a wide range of appropriate resources available for the teaching of Science in the school. Resources were purchased and catalogued by the principal and a post holder. They are labelled and centrally stored on shelves beside the principal’s office to aid easy accessibility. These are listed under school equipment in the school plan. It was noted that there is a plethora of books in the school on topics covered under ‘Living Things’. Consideration should be given to accessing more books to support learning in other strand units. Material resources are provided in the school to aid teaching and learning in all of the four strands. Equipment and resources to support designing and making are also provided. A well laid out garden to the rear of the school, visible from the long corridor and designed by the school’s dedicated caretaker, is a wonderful resource to aid pupil learning. Pupils visit the garden during science lessons and contribute to the planting and caring of vegetables and flowers. This links in with the Green School’s Project. Further resources and materials are available through the Green School’s Project, all of which are used effectively by the staff. There is a bird table outside the main entrance for pupils and this creates interest in wildlife. An attractive mural, created by a teacher with particular artistic talents adorns a wall of the playground. The school yard has a number of trees growing on its grounds. There is a variety of both modern and old buildings visible in close proximity to the school. These all contribute to the pupils’ learning.
The school is involved with the Junior Achievement project and the outside speakers from local companies supply interesting and suitable materials on the topics covered through the project. These augment and supplement the resources already available in the school. Speakers such as the science cuiditheoir from the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) and the Environmental Officer from Leitrim County Council contribute to the pupils’ learning in areas prioritised by the staff. Teachers have participated in the in-service training in Science provided through the PCSP and some staff members have availed of supplementary evening classes in Science available at the adjacent education centre. The principal promotes collaborative practices by, for example, facilitating teachers briefing other staff members at staff meetings on new material acquired at courses. This constitutes best practice.
There is some software available to support the teaching and learning in Science. However, this needs to be augmented and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) should be used more frequently in Science lessons. Some teachers use interesting websites in preparation for their lessons but this needs to be extended to all classes. It is recommended that teachers plan for experiments with older pupils in advance of the activity session so that pupils can bring in the required materials. There are listed habitats in the school plan. However, the staff need to draw up a list of seasonal habitats to give pupils an opportunity to visit them at regular intervals. Only one science trail was in evidence at the time of inspection. There is huge potential for the development of further trails both in the school grounds and in the town of Carrick-on-Shannon. This would contribute enormously to pupil learning as the pupils involved in the Material trail derived huge benefits from the activity. The school environment itself has lots of potential as noted by the staff in the school plan when they undertook an environmental audit in February, 2003.
2.2 Resources for Mathematics
The school has a wide range of mathematics resources which are stimulating and interactive. This selection of resources has an appropriate balance of teacher resources and pupil resources, with commendable emphasis on concrete materials. ICT resources are also available. It is recommended that the school audits these ICT resources with a view to developing the range of software resources available to all class levels. Some class teachers make excellent use of mathematical web-sites. Teachers are encouraged to continuously analyse and upgrade the school’s selection of mathematics resources. Mathematics resources are used to very good effect in lessons, both to illustrate and analyse concepts and to provide pupils with concrete ‘hands on’ activities. Classrooms are well presented as mathematics-rich environments, with many rooms revealing very creative and appropriate use of the classroom surroundings to illustrate mathematical principles and concepts. All classrooms display mathematical charts and stimuli, with some rooms also boasting a ‘Maths Table’. The overall school environment is used effectively as a mathematical setting. It is recommended that further opportunities be investigated to develop ‘Maths Trails’ within this environment. The school has availed of the PCSP cuiditheoir service in the development of the school plan for Mathematics and in the development of methodological approaches to the teaching of the mathematics curriculum.
3.1 Whole-school planning in Science
A whole school policy in Science was formulated by the staff in 2003 in a collaborative way. It contains the key headings as outlined by the School Development Planning (SDP) template for planning in Science. All the four strands are catered for over a two year cycle. The policy which is due for review in 2007 is clear, succinct and user friendly and outlines the key methodologies and approaches to facilitate teachers in implementing Science efficiently. It also outlines how teachers should cater for pupils with special educational needs and for those of exceptional ability. The policy states the school’s commitment to equality of access and participation in Science and notes how science topics can be linked and integrated both within the subject and with other subject areas. Resources to support teaching and learning in the subject are also listed. Assessment tools that teachers find useful are covered in detail in the whole-school plan. Opportunities for community links, staff development and parental involvement in the teaching and learning of Science are noted. The skills that the pupils will acquire in Science are outlined but the policy does not refer to adopting thematic approaches which should be considered. This will tie in closely with opportunities for integration.
Personnel with specific responsibilities are identified in the planning documents. The plan contains a list of all the available resources to support Science in the school. The plan does not contain a conservation code and this should be included during the review. Information in relation to formulating the code is noted in the curriculum documents. Consideration should also be given to including a safety statement in the science plan. This is a very good school plan and teachers should consult it when formulating their own long-term and short-term planning notes. The content and information is very good and it serves as a very beneficial document to support teaching and learning of Science.
3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics
The school plan for Mathematics is very comprehensive and detailed, making very appropriate provision for the key principles of the Primary School Curriculum and for all strands of the curriculum. The policy has been developed in consultation with all teaching staff and with the advice of the PCSP cuiditheoir service. This policy was originally drafted in 2002 and has been revisited and revised in 2003 and again, in 2007. In so doing, the policy has been ratified by the board of management. The plan makes a clear outline of curriculum aims, objectives and content for each class level in all strands of the mathematics curriculum. It also includes very laudable guidelines on the use of mathematical language, on skill development and on methodologies for the teaching of mathematics. These guidelines serve to ensure continuity and progression across the different class levels. The policy makes very creative and praiseworthy provision for the application of mathematical language and concepts to the daily life experiences of the pupil. Excellent provision is made for differentiation and assessment practices. The policy is also related to the school’s learning support policy on the teaching of Mathematics.
3.3 Whole-school planning in Child Protection
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.
3.4 Classroom planning in Science
Teachers’ long-term and short-term planning in Science is based on the strand and strand units of the curriculum. However, teachers need to plan according to the content objectives of the curriculum. Plans need to contain provision for individual needs as a large number of pupils in some classes attend language support, learning support or the RTT. Therefore, teachers need to differentiate the curriculum in their personal planning for those pupils so that they can access the content appropriately. Plans should provide for the development of scientific skills. Plans should include the methodologies, the resources and the assessment tools that the teacher will use during the teaching and learning of each lesson. This is an area for development in the school as most teachers plan for content only and do not plan under the aforementioned headings. Teachers are not planning for integration and linkage and they need to in order to cover the curriculum in all subjects. More overall familiarity with the curriculum at each level would prove useful in this regard. It is therefore recommended that the staff devises a planning template which would include all of the headings noted above. This would guide the implementation of the science curriculum in a coherent and sequential manner.
The time allocated to Science is appropriate. Most classrooms visited provide interesting investigation and nature tables. Most rooms have a variety of posters and language charts to support teaching and learning in the subject. It is recommended that all teachers adopt the approach of allocating a section of the room to highlighting the key topic covered in the subject so as to give priority to Science. Most teachers manage pupil behaviour and application in tasks effectively. Samples of pupils’ work are displayed in most classrooms. It is recommended that all the teachers of middle and senior classes plan experiments in advance with pupils so that they can assist in collecting the materials required for the practical work.
3.5 Classroom planning in Mathematics
Teachers’ long term and short term planning in the area of Mathematics is very good. Content is clearly delineated with due regard for progression and continuity. Teachers outline a selection of methodologies in their plans, with very good provision for a variety of ‘hands-on’ activities for the pupils. Teachers make appropriate provision for assessment and integration. It is recommended that teachers make more definitive references to differentiation practices in their short-term plans, with specific references to newcomer pupils whose first language is not English. A number of teachers adopt a thematic approach to the teaching of Mathematics, integrating the subject with a number of other curricular areas and extending lesson content beyond the textbook. It is recommended that the school considers wider possibilities for such approaches.
4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science
The overall quality of teaching is very good. Lessons are structured and well-paced and the content is developed adequately. Most teachers elicit the pupils’ ideas at the start of lessons. Teachers are adept at questioning, explaining and instructing the pupils and at relating Science to everyday living. Teachers employ a variety of methodologies effectively during the teaching of the lessons. They use group work, pair work, research, brainstorming, experiments and the local environment judiciously in their teaching. There is appropriate attention given to the development of scientific language in most classes. During lessons teachers make good provision for skill development in both working scientifically and in designing and making. A number of good designing and making lessons were conducted by teachers this year such as making volcanoes, magnetic fishing games and making models of lungs. Effective practice when a language support teacher and a mainstream classroom practitioner worked collaboratively was observed during the course of the evaluation. It is evident that a large number of pupils would benefit from further lessons of this type to support their learning and develop their understanding. More adequate planning in Science would ensure very good teaching and learning in Science on a continuous basis.
The overall quality of learning in Science is very good. Pupils were actively involved in all of the lessons observed during the evaluation. Most pupils display interest and enthusiasm for Science throughout the school. Pupils’ concepts and knowledge are developed through activity, experimentation and investigation. It is recommended that pupils make a record of all experiments conducted and that they write a summary of the steps involved in carrying out the procedure. Pupils in some classes can carry out fair tests and this should be extended to all classes. Pupils in some classes were able to use the language of Science appropriately during experiments. In other classes tasks were allocated to pupils that could have been part of any lesson rather than a science lesson. Emphasis needs to be placed on the use of scientific language during tasks and active learning. Pupils’ overall knowledge and understanding is appropriate to their age and stage of development.
As part of the evaluation, two sets of tasks were administered to the pupils in a number of the classrooms. The first set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ conceptual knowledge. In the strand Energy and Forces, the majority of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the stand units of Light, Forces and Sound, while fewer than half demonstrated mastery in the strand unit on Heat. Almost all of the pupils assessed demonstrated mastery of the strand unit Magnetism and Electricity. In the strand Living Things, almost all the pupils in the junior classes assessed displayed mastery of the concept tested in Human Life while the majority of the pupils displayed mastery of the concept tested in Plant and Animal Life. However, most of the senior pupils assessed demonstrated mastery of the concept tested in Human Life and Plant and Animal Life. In Materials, all of the pupils in the middle classes assessed demonstrated mastery in Properties and Characteristics of Materials. However, only a few pupils demonstrated mastery of the strand unit of Materials and Change.
In the Strand Environmental Awareness and Care fewer than half of the junior pupils assessed demonstrated mastery of the strand unit Caring for My Locality. In the middle classes, all of the pupils assessed demonstrated mastery of the strand unit Environmental Awareness, while the majority of those assessed demonstrated mastery of the strand unit Science and the Environment while most of the pupils assessed demonstrated mastery of the strand unit Caring for the Environment. In another middle class most of the pupils assessed demonstrated mastery of the strand unit Caring for My Locality.
The second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ procedural knowledge. In the junior classes fewer than half of the pupils who were assessed demonstrated mastery of the tasks. In the middle classes most of the pupils who were assessed demonstrated mastery of the tasks while the majority of the senior pupils demonstrated mastery of the tasks assigned to them.
4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics
Mathematics lessons are very well presented. Pupils reveal a keen interest in and enthusiasm for Mathematics. The school is praised for the consistent and progressive manner in which mathematical language and mathematical processes are presented to pupils across all class levels. Lesson content is clearly outlined with due regard for linkage and integration. In some instances, it is recommended that teachers consider wider possibilities for the adoption of thematic and cross-curricular approaches which extend lesson content beyond the confines of textbook objectives. Teachers adopt a variety of methodological approaches in the teaching of Mathematics. Whole class teaching is used appropriately to present lesson content and to facilitate discussion on particular concepts. Teachers make very good use of collaborative learning to facilitate the use of mathematical language and to develop the pupils’ reasoning skills. Pupils are given a wide variety of opportunities to practise new mathematical language and to apply it to their environment. In so doing, some teachers encourage pupils to apply this language to their own life experience and to create their own word problems based on the language and mathematical processes in question. It is recommended that the school considers wider possibilities for the extension of such praiseworthy endeavours.
Teachers make very good use of resources in their lessons, both to present lesson content and to develop the pupils’ mathematical skills. In particular, teachers make very effective provision for ‘hands on’ activities involving the use of concrete resources. Pupils are enthusiastic about the use of such resources which serve to develop their reasoning, estimation and problem-solving skills. In a number of classes, pupils are actively encouraged to question and interrogate particular mathematical processes and concepts. Such development of pupil interest and curiosity in Mathematics is highly commended. Teachers make good provision for differentiation in their lessons, particularly within multi-grade contexts. It is recommended that teachers make more definitive references to differentiation practices in their short-term plans, with specific reference to newcomer pupils whose first language is not English. Teachers make good provision for mental arithmetic, with some teachers making very creative use of games and activities which motivate and challenge the pupils. Teachers adopt a wide variety of approaches to assessing pupil progress. Methods used include teacher observation, teacher-designed tasks, work samples and standardised tests. Pupils’ written work is of a high standard. Such work is regularly monitored with class teachers providing regular and formative feedback to the pupils. Pupils reveal an interest and pride in their written work. Pupils’ achievements in Mathematics are very good. In some cases, pupil absenteeism can be correlated with poor achievement in standardised Mathematics tests. Notwithstanding the very positive approaches the school already undertakes to promoting high pupil attendance, it is recommended that the school re-examines approaches to increasing the attendance of specific pupils.
4.3 Quality of support for pupils in Mathematics
The school has a learning support policy which provides specific outlines on the steps and approaches to be undertaken when providing assistance to pupils in the area of numeracy. The school has six teachers as part of its support team. Pupils are selected for support in the area of numeracy based on the results of a variety of standardised tests and on teacher advice. Support in the area of numeracy is guided by the pupils’ Individual Profile and Learning Programme (IPLP). These profiles set out both long-term and short-term targets which are specific and progressional in nature. The support team regularly liaises with the class teacher on the formulation and upgrading of these targets. These targets are also accompanied by learning strategies for each child. Parents are informed of these targets and are regularly informed of the progress of their child. This support is delivered both on a withdrawal and on an in-class basis.
Numeracy lessons are delivered in a very warm and affirming manner and are characterised by high pupil involvement. These lessons make use of a variety of stimuli, of talk and discussion and of collaborative learning to develop the pupils’ numerical abilities. Teachers make excellent use of concrete resources, with pupils being provided with a variety of ‘hands-on’ activities and challenges. This highly interactive approach serves to create stimulating lessons which pupils clearly enjoy. Teachers relate lesson content very effectively to the life experience of the pupils, and in so doing, make commendable provision for mental arithmetic. A number of teachers make excellent use of web-based resources to develop and consolidate specific concepts and mathematical principles. Where possible, pupils are also encouraged to visit these web-sites when at home. It is recommended that, given teachers’ enthusiasm for such ICT. usage, the school further extends its learning support software in the area of numeracy. Teachers maintain careful and continuous records of pupil progress. These records are used to inform the reviews of each child’s IPLP which takes place twice in the academic year.
To mirror the school’s approach to early intervention in the area of literacy, the school is currently endeavouring to target resources at early intervention in the area of numeracy. The school is commended in this endeavour. It is recommended that in developing its approach to early intervention in numeracy, the school also examines further possibilities for broadening support in the area of numeracy across all classes. In so doing, it is recommended that such an approach should pay due regard to the role of language support teachers and the possible support they can offer in the area of consolidating new mathematical language for newcomer pupils. Such an approach could also explore the benefits of the learning support teacher working alongside the class teacher with a view to delivering numeracy support to targeted pupils in their own classrooms. Members of the support team are commended for their commitment, their flexibility, their experience and their expertise.
The following are the main strengths identified.
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.