An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Rathbeggan National School
Roll Number: 18448U
Date of inspection: 19 April 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 Rathbeggan National School. 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.
Opened in 1960, Rathbeggan National School is located in Dunshaughlin, Co. Meath. The school currently has an enrolment of 181 pupils. In recent times, the school has grown very considerably, with continued growth being anticipated for the foreseeable future. The school has six mainstream class teachers, inclusive of the teaching principal, two full-time resource teachers and a part-time learning support teacher. The school staff also includes two full-time special needs assistants, a part-time special needs assistant, a secretary and a cleaner. The school is very active in engaging with parents and the wider school community. It communicates with parents on a number of fronts, with a regular school newsletter being one of the more notable features of such communication. The school also makes excellent use of the ‘text-a-parent’ service to remind and inform parents of school activities and events. Parents are encouraged to become involved in school activities and events, with the school making very commendable use of the unique and diverse expertise of the parent population. Specifically, parents with an expertise in Science are frequently involved in school talks and school activities, such as the school garden. Parents and teachers alike are commended for such initiatives. The school parents’ association is active in fundraising and in providing assistance with the school’s extra-curricular programme.
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.
2.1 Resources for Science
The school has been making a continuous and systematic investment in science equipment over the past number of years, most especially, since the arrival of the 1999 revised science curriculum. The science co-ordinator is responsible for auditing, managing and ordering science equipment. In so doing, she liaises closely with other members of the teaching staff, encouraging them to base their resource requirements on the key principles and recommendations of the science curriculum. Resources are stored in a centralised and accessible manner. The school has collected a wide number of concrete ‘hands-on’ resources for use in all strands of the curriculum. There is a very laudable balance between pupil resources and teacher resources, with multiple samples of specific resources being available to facilitate individual pupil usage. It is recommended that the school builds further on this commendable selection of resources by auditing and augmenting its current resource provision for the ‘Energy and Forces’ and ‘Materials’ strands.
The school makes excellent use of its immediate natural environment to facilitate learning in a number of strands, most especially ‘Living Things’ and ‘Environmental Awareness and Care’. Within the immediate environs of the school, a hedgerow, school herb garden, school vegetable garden and a variety of trees and plants serve as key stimuli and resources for a number of science lessons. Teachers are commended for the widespread and structured use they make of such local environments. Beyond the immediate habitats and environment of the school, pupils are also brought to visit a number of other natural environments. For example, field trips to Dalgan Park, Balrath Woods and bogland habitats are undertaken regularly. This year, a trip to Knocksink Woods has also been planned.
The school makes very commendable use of support services such as the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) and the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). In building on these support services, the school actively encourages teachers to attend in-service courses on Science. Some teachers have attended summer courses on the subject, while others have attended the ‘Discover Primary Science’ programme. The school makes good provision for the dissemination of learning and ideas from these courses.
2.2 Resources for Mathematics
The use of suitable and attractive mathematical equipment, illustrative materials, textbooks and additional reference books is very well provided for in this school and these resources are easily accessible. A comprehensive list of resources is included in the school plan and a code indicating where the various items may be accessed throughout the school is very helpful. The classrooms incorporate mathematics-rich environments, including mathematical areas displaying posters and charts. The mathematics co-ordinator makes a very valuable contribution to furthering the meaningful use of concrete materials in the school by sourcing new resources and making them available to the class teachers. This promotes a fresh and collaborative approach to the teaching of Mathematics in the school. Increasingly, the school is making allowance for the provision of Information Communication Technology (ICT) software and for accessing useful websites for mathematical games. This practice adds further impetus to the consolidation of work covered in the mathematics programme and also by way of developing higher-order thinking skills in the pupils. However, it is recommended that the school further increases its efforts to provide software packages for the teaching and learning of the subject. The school building presents as neat and attractive and its immediate environs are very attractive and conducive to the conduct of mathematical trails at suitable times during the course of the year. The staff has engaged actively with the PCSP and has availed of the services of the cuiditheoir service in developing the school plan for Mathematics and the learning support policy document
3.1 Whole-school planning in Science
The school plan for Science is detailed, practical and comprehensive, taking commendable account of the unique setting and context of Rathbeggan National School. The plan commences with a statement of the vision and aims of the science plan. It makes very good provision for methodological approaches, community involvement, linkage and integration, practical investigations and the use of the local environment. Excellent provision is made for success criteria, for assessment and for the use of resources. The plan also includes a safety statement and suggested frameworks for undertaking science investigations. The plan has been created by the school’s teaching staff. In designing and developing the plan, the school has also made commendable use of the services of the SDPI and the PCSP. It is recommended that in developing the plan further, greater consultation with parents be facilitated. The plan provides a brief outline of the duties pertaining to the post of science co-ordinator. It is recommended that such an outline needs to make more definitive references to curriculum leadership in the area of Science.
3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics
The principal and staff have collaborated very effectively to produce a comprehensive school plan for Mathematics. The plan, which is subject to review, has been guided by one of the learning support teachers, as mathematics co-ordinator, and is, as stated therein, due to be ratified again by the board of management when the review has been completed. Very good provision is made for the teaching of the mathematics programme generally. However, not all strands are stressed adequately in the plan, namely ‘Data’, ‘Algebra’ and ‘Shape and Space’; these areas should be addressed in the forthcoming review. It is acknowledged that the teachers long-term and short-term planning does fully incorporate all strands of the curriculum. In the school plan document there is very good emphasis on methods and on the importance of the pupils working with concrete materials to gain understanding of concepts. There is also excellent attention devoted to talk and discussion and to the development of the relevant mathematical skills in the pupils. Common agreed approaches to the teaching of certain content areas of the curriculum, such as algorithms, decimals and fractions are stated clearly in the document and this is highly commended. There are very comprehensive and helpful statements on differentiation, linkage within the subject and integration with other subjects, meaningful use of the environment and assessment procedures.
The collaborative planning and whole-school approach adopted by principal and staff is evidence of the school’s commitment to ongoing improvement in the teaching of Mathematics and indicates constant striving to further improve standards.
3.3 Classroom planning
Overall, the quality of teachers’ planning in Science is very good. Teachers’ long-term planning makes a very clear outline of the content to be taught. In so doing, teachers make very appropriate provision for continuity and progression. Such planning in the area of Science provides for a fair balance of strands, although in a few cases, it was noted that teachers over-emphasised the ‘Living Things’ strand. The practice whereby a number of teachers make reference to methodologies, resources, assessment and differentiation is commended. Short-term planning in almost all classrooms is of a high standard. Teachers make reference to differentiation practices, assessment procedures, integration and methodological approaches. Teachers’ planning makes excellent provision for the use of resources and for activities. Teachers keep monthly accounts of work completed. These reports are very satisfactory, outlining the key learning outcomes achieved by pupils. With regard to Science, teachers adopt a wide variety of approaches to assessing pupil progress, with teacher observation and teacher designed tasks being the most prevalent of such approaches. In some classes, each pupil creates a science portfolio book. Such practice is highly commended.
The teachers prepare their yearly and short-term schemes for the teaching of Mathematics very carefully. The plans are very well referenced to the primary school curriculum and the school plan and are relevant to the needs and abilities of the pupils. The important areas of content, methods, use of resources, differentiation, integration and assessment are given due attention and are suitably listed in a template format. The teachers are conscious of the importance of meeting the needs of all pupils across the intelligence spectrum.
The teachers very obviously collaborate and discuss their work with one another and there is a consistency of approach observed across classroom planning generally. The implementation of differentiation is particularly evidenced in the compilation of the Individual Profile and Learning Programmes (IPLPs) which are drawn up by the learning support teachers in conjunction with the class teachers. Teachers maintain monthly accounts of work completed. They maintain accurate records of pupil achievement in Mathematics, employing a mix of assessment procedures. The coherent and systematic approach to pupil assessment in Mathematics as articulated in the school plan is very well reflected in the teachers’ own planning. They retain records, suitably stored, of the standardised and diagnostic tests administered to the pupils at appropriate and regular times of the year.
4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science
The quality of teaching and learning in Science is very good. Pupils reveal a keen interest in science lessons and participate enthusiastically in same. Classroom environments are very stimulating, with a large number of classrooms having science/investigation tables. All classrooms display samples of the pupils’ scientific work, with a large number also displaying ongoing experiments. The school is commended for regularly photographing pupils’ activities in Science. Each year, the school hosts a science week which is open to the entire school community. Such an initiative is highly commended as it celebrates and promotes the subject.
Lessons are very well structured, commencing with the pupils’ ideas and life experiences as a basis for developing and introducing lesson content. Teachers make excellent use of resources in their lessons, with pupils also being given a wide range of opportunities to engage in hands-on activities with concrete resources. In this respect, teachers make very good use of resources to develop the pupils’ scientific skills in observing, investigating, experimenting, measuring and analysing scientific phenomena. In developing such skills, pupils reveal considerable ability to work independently on scientific activities. In engaging in these activities, a large number of lessons also make provision for the recording and representation of data and findings. Teachers are commended for the extensive use they make of the local school environment, such as hedgerows and the school garden. In using these environments, teachers make excellent provision for the study of strands dealing with ‘Environmental Awareness and Care’ and ‘Living Things’. Some teachers make very good use of ICT in their lessons. It is recommended that the school identifies more opportunities for the use of ICT in science lessons.
Teachers adopt a variety of methodologies and approaches to the teaching of Science, integrating the subject very creatively with a number of other curriculum areas. Commendable use is made of whole class teaching, talk and discussion, and experimentation. In adopting such approaches, pupils’ skills in the area of prediction, estimation, observation and classification are notably developed. In developing such skills, some teachers encourage pupils to question and analyse particular scientific phenomena and concepts. Such practice is praiseworthy. It is recommended that teachers consider wider opportunities for the incorporation of pupil questions in their lessons. Almost all teachers make very effective use of group work and collaborative learning in their lessons. Some teachers adopt a thematic approach to the teaching of Science, using the class textbook as a support resource only. Such practice is highly commended.
The school is highly commended for the proactive approach it takes to involving pupils in a variety of scientific projects at school, local and national levels. At school level, the development of the herb and vegetable gardens is a praiseworthy departure, being used to develop the pupils’ scientific skills on a number of levels. At local level, the school is involved in a number of recycling projects such as the ‘Ringo Project’, ‘Battery Recycling’ project and the ‘Mobile Recycling’ project. At national level, the school is actively involved in the ‘Discover Primary Science’ programme, being an award winner in 2006. Pupils are also involved in the ‘Green Wave’ research project, the ‘K’Nex Challenge’ and the ‘Discover Science and Engineering’ project. The school has also been accepted into the Young Scientist Competition for 2008. These varied and diverse scientific 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’, most of the pupils assessed displayed mastery of the concepts tested in Myself, and the majority of pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Plant and Animal Life. In ‘Energy and Forces’, most of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Heat. Similarly, most of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Forces. Fewer than half of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Electricity and Magnetism. The majority of pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Sound. A small number of pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts assessed in Light. In ‘Materials’, the majority of pupils mastered the concepts assessed in both Materials and Change and Properties and Characteristics of Materials. Almost all of the pupils 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 the senior and middle pupils displayed mastery of the knowledge and skills required by the task. In the junior classes, most pupils mastered the objectives required by the task. On the evidence of classroom observation and pupil responses to tasks, it is recommended that greater consideration be given to the intended learning outcomes of curriculum strands associated with Light and Sound.
4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics
The teachers’ attention to planning and preparation in Mathematics is mirrored admirably in the classrooms. The work generally encompasses a hands-on, explorative and fun approach to the learning and teaching of the subject which ensures that the pupils feel attracted to Mathematics and acquire a sense of achievement and success appropriate to their needs and abilities. The full range of the mathematics programme is being covered comprehensively and the pupils in all classes indicate a very keen interest in their work. There is a very suitable mix of whole-class, group and individualised teaching in operation. All teachers are very conscious of the importance of the language of Mathematics and how talk and discussion can lead to a fuller understanding of relevant concepts and the acquisition of skills. Very good use is made of a variety of concrete and illustrative materials from the infant classes right up to the senior classes. Consequently, the pupils at all levels are actively involved in their learning. They also are trained effectively to record their findings accurately and neatly. The teachers make Mathematics real for the pupils by making appropriate reference to their immediate environment in school and at home and by choosing themes and settings that stimulate their interest. The use of direction cards to indicate metric distances to the various classrooms encapsulates the notion for the pupils that Mathematics is manifest in their surroundings and is at all times relevant. Also, the projects assigned to the pupils in the senior classes in relation to the refurbishment of their classroom and to the restoration of a wall afford them many worthwhile opportunities to engage in real life Mathematics at different levels of ability.
In the six classrooms visited, well-planned and skilfully delivered lessons were observed. The lessons encompassed themes such as early number work and patterns, the exploration and identification of three dimensional shapes, the complementing of numbers to ten and beyond, number sentences, sequences and patterns, chance and area and perimeter. A mathematics trail engaged the pupils in the lower classes to very good effect and provided many opportunities for linkage within the subject and integration with other areas of the curriculum.
All teachers realise the importance of mental mathematics and pupils are being enabled to acquire mastery of relevant number facts and of the appropriate computational skills in line with their needs and ability. The teachers are commended for the exceptional manner in which they ensure that the pupils are fully enthused about their learning of number facts. Very good use is made of target cards and games in this regard. Most pupils throughout the school indicate a very commendable level of knowledge of number facts, a good understanding of the relevant mathematical concepts and a confidence in engaging in mathematical activities, such as problem solving. The extension of work on suitable ICT packages would add further impetus to the development of problem-solving skills in the pupils.
The teachers assess the pupils’ progress in Mathematics on a regular basis and there is evidence that the various assessment procedures in use inform their planning. Standardised test results in Mathematics over the last number of years are reflective of the high quality of learning and teaching of the subject. The main standardised tests in use are the Drumcondra Primary Mathematics Test and the Norman France mathematical profile, the latter being used to very good effect in the middle and senior classes for diagnostic purposes.
4.3 Quality of support for pupils in Mathematics
The school has the services of two full-time resource teachers and also of a shared learning support teacher. There is very effective collaboration with the class teachers to provide very good supplementary support for pupils who have particular learning needs in Mathematics. Also very good assistance is provided to class teachers by way of advice on differentiated approaches for the teaching and learning of Mathematics and by way of providing suitable back-up learning materials. Provision is also made for the use of appropriate software packages to further the pupils’ interest in Mathematics and to provide an element of fun.
Early intervention is a very important component of the learning support provision in the school. In the teaching of Mathematics there is in-class support for pupils at infant level who may be experiencing difficulty, through focusing on language development. From first class level up there is very specific in-class assistance for pupils in Mathematics who may be experiencing difficulty in the subject. The combined efforts of the resource and learning support teachers, class teachers and parents ensure that a relatively small number of pupils in the school have very significant difficulties with Mathematics. The in-class support intervention also affords opportunities to challenge the more able pupils as appropriate.
IPLPs with a commendable level of targeting of learning outcomes, following appropriate consultation with parents and class teachers, have been drawn up for the pupils who need learning support. There is a clear policy outlined in the school plan as to when support teaching should be discontinued for pupils who have made sufficient progress.
The supplementary teaching as observed both within the class and in the support room is of a very high order and there is admirable attention devoted to instilling in pupils a love of Mathematics and developing their self-confidence. It would appear that pupils are benefiting considerably from the additional support.
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 staff and Board of Management of Rathbeggan National School are quite satisfied with the content of this inspection report and feel that it constitutes a fair, balanced and accurate reflection of the schools present provision for Mathematics and Science. We would like to compliment the two Department Inspectors for the very professional manner in which they carried out their evaluation and we thank them for their encouragement and support.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
In relation to the findings and recommendations of the inspection the following decisions have been made:
The Maths co-ordinator, in consultation with the other members of staff, has undertaken to address the Data, Algebra and Shape and Space strands in the school plan for mathematics.
The Board of Management has agreed that a proportion of annual expenditure on ICT should go specifically towards updating and augmenting computer software resources for Maths, Science and other curricular areas.
The school will seek the assistance of the P.C.S.P. cuiditheoir for SESE in reviewing and assessing the intended learning outcomes of science curriculum strands associated with 'Light and Sound'.
The Science co-ordinator, with the assistance of the other members of staff, has undertaken to co-ordinate an audit of our current resource provision for the 'Energy and Forces' and 'Materials' strands of the Science curriculum with a view towards augmenting our resource materials in this area.