An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Scoil Náisiúnta Phádraig
Date of inspection: 29 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 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 Phádraig. 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; a response was not received from the board.
Scoil Phádraig, which provides education for boys from second to sixth class, is located on a large site in the centre of Ballina. The school has an administrative principal, six mainstream-class teachers, two resource teachers for children of the Traveller community, a learning-support teacher and a resource teacher. An additional teacher is employed on a part-time basis to support pupils for whom English is not a first language. The school also shares the services of a learning-support teacher and a home-school-community liaison co-ordinator with other local schools. The school employs three special-needs assistants (SNA), a secretary and a caretaker. There are 122 pupils enrolled here at the time of the evaluation. The school receives support from the Department of Education and Science’s DEIS programme.
The management and staff of the school deserve immense credit for the way in which the school grounds have been developed. As a result of continuous planting down through the years, there is a wide variety of mature trees, which are an excellent resource for learning in Science. A user-friendly map of the school grounds, identifying each tree, has been produced by the deputy principal, who co-ordinates environmental education in the school. At present this outstanding resource is not being used in a continuous, structured way by the various classes. It is recommended that a whole-school plan be developed to enable the pupils to learn about the trees and the other living things that depend on them. A key feature of such a plan would be a clear statement of what the pupils in each class would be expected to learn. There may also be a need to develop a support pack for teachers, with identification keys, notes on seasonal changes, food chains and other information.
The school is to be commended on the provision of a well-ordered learning environment for the pupils. There is scope, however, for greater use of corridor displays to reinforce learning, celebrate pupils’ work and brighten the general atmosphere. Some of the mainstream classrooms have useful display areas for Science and Mathematics, which make it easier for pupils to understand and remember concepts and procedures. A small number of class teachers also provide charts to support the pupils’ language development in Science and Mathematics. It is recommended also that all mainstream teachers use charts and other visual materials to support the pupils’ language development in both Science and Mathematics.
The school has a basic level of resources for the teaching of Mathematics. Blocks, hundred-squares, number strips and plastic shapes are to be found in most classrooms. A range of other resources, including measuring equipment, is stored centrally. Mathematics resources are also available in the rooms of the learning-support and resource teachers. Although there is a greater focus on literacy than numeracy in these settings, some of the support teachers use a selection of games, manipulatives, visual aids and computer software to support learning in Mathematics. The school has plans to provide Mathematics trails and games in the recreation area.
Several teachers have posts of responsibility in addition to their teaching duties. These post-holders, along with the principal, comprise the in-school management team. The deputy principal is responsible for the co-ordination of the Green Schools project and the development of the school grounds. Other areas of Science are not included in the responsibilities of any post-holder at present. Mathematics is among the responsibilities of one of the special-duties teachers. It is recommended that the duties attached to each post of responsibility be reviewed regularly in order to ensure that curriculum leadership is being provided in the areas in which the need for leadership is greatest. It is recommended that the job descriptions for the posts of responsibility be revised, with a view to ensuring that each post has a combination of organisational, pastoral and curricular duties. It is recommended that the board provide each post-holder with a contract, in accordance with Department of Education and Science (D.E.S.) Circular 17/2000.
There are some examples of very good classroom practice in the school. In order to ensure high-quality learning experiences for all pupils, it is recommended that the school provide regular, structured opportunities for the sharing of expertise among teachers. Some teachers participate in local and national Science projects that provide good professional-development opportunities. It would be useful if time were allocated at staff meetings to enable these teachers to share their experience with colleagues. It is recommended also that the school consider organising a whole-school Science exhibition, at which each class might share their Science skills and knowledge with fellow-pupils, teachers and other members of the school community.
3.1 Whole-school planning for Science
The school plan for Science includes an introductory statement and rationale, a vision statement, broad objectives and a description of the key features of Science in the Primary School Curriculum. The plan is generic in nature and requires further adaptation if it is to reflect accurately the specific needs of Scoil Phádraig and the resources that are available to this school. It is recommended in particular that a section be included on the activities that each class is to undertake in the school grounds as well as the intended learning outcomes of these activities.
It is recommended that the school implement the plan’s stated policies regarding the use of children’s ideas, the development of Science skills and the adaptation of content and methodologies for pupils with special needs. It is recommended also that the plan make reference to the specific language that pupils will be required to learn and use when studying each topic. These revisions, accompanied by a commitment to the implementation of the plan would enable the school to ensure continuity and progression in the pupils’ learning as they move from second class through to sixth.
3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics
The whole-school plan for Mathematics is reviewed on a regular basis through the development of action plans. This year, the staff is focusing on numeracy, the purchase and use of Numicon resources, the development of a Mathematics trail, the use of information and communications technology (ICT) for numeracy in the classroom and the organisation of a ‘Maths-for-fun’ day. The school is currently receiving support from a DEIS facilitator to address the issue of numeracy in the school.
The development of the school plan for Mathematics has involved collaboration between staff members. The plan contains very good sections on mathematical language, teaching approaches, skills development, use of the environment and the use of ICT in the teaching of Mathematics. There is little evidence, however, that the plan is having any impact on the teaching and learning of Mathematics in the school. It is recommended that the plan be reviewed to ensure that it reflects existing good practice. It is important that all teachers are familiar with the plan and committed to its implementation.
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
Each teacher prepares a long-term scheme of work for his/her class as well as more detailed short-term schemes and a monthly account of the work completed (an cuntas míosúil). There is considerable variation in the quality of planning seen from classroom to classroom. Some teachers plan very effectively and this is reflected in the high quality of teaching and learning in these classrooms. The schemes available for inspection in other rooms are not sufficiently specific and teaching is consequently less purposeful. The most useful schemes make reference to clear outcomes as well as the methodologies and resources that will be used and the ways in which teaching will be adapted for pupils with special needs. In a small number of cases, teachers set clear targets with regard to the language that the pupils will need to learn and use while exploring a particular topic in Mathamatics or Science.
It is recommended that all teachers set out clear, specific learning outcomes for both Science and Mathematics in their short term schemes, with a view to increasing the overall effectiveness of teaching across the school. It is recommended that the outcomes achieved be recorded clearly in the cuntas míosúil. It is clear from classroom observation that there is a need to plan more effectively for the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs in Science activities. It is recommended that the in-school management team co-ordinate a review of current arrangements for classroom planning and assessment, with a view to developing a consistent whole-school approach.
4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science
The standard of behaviour management in the school is high. The pupils are generally well motivated and there is evidence of good relationships between teachers and pupils. The school is to be commended on its participation in several Science-related projects. It is recommended that the school consider collaborating with science-based industries in the locality on projects through which the pupils could develop their skills and understanding.
There are examples of very good practice in aspects of teaching and learning. Most of the Science lessons seen were practical in nature. There is scope, however, for more structured opportunities for pupils to develop their communicative and collaborative skills through purposeful interaction in pairs or small groups. There was effective use of charts and other illustrative materials in some of the Science lessons seen. In a small number of lessons there was a deliberate and successful focus on enabling the pupils to understand and use the key vocabulary associated with the topic.
It is recommended that charts and other illustrative materials be used more widely in the teaching of Science. It is recommended that the vocabulary relevant to the lesson topic be taught to the pupils and that pupils be given frequent opportunities to use it. It is recommended that there be a greater emphasis on developing the pupils’ ability to record and communicate their ideas, observations, findings and questions. It is recommended that teachers adapt their objectives, methodologies and resources so that pupils with special educational needs can be included meaningfully in the lesson.
As part of this evaluation, two sets of tasks were administered to pupils in a sample of classrooms. The first set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ conceptual understanding. These tasks were based on the four content strands of the Science curriculum. A majority of pupils demonstrated understanding of the objective tested in Environmental Awareness and Care. In each of the other strands fewer than half of the pupils had mastered the objectives tested. Pupils were least successful with the tasks from the strand units Plants and Animals, Forces and Sound. It is recommended that further attention be given to these areas.
A second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ understanding of Science procedures, with a particular focus on the development of investigation skills. The pupils’ responses indicate that most pupils in the school have yet to achieve the objectives being tested. On this basis, it is recommended that the teachers devise and implement a whole-school approach to the development of the curriculum strand Working Scientifically. It is especially important that pupils in the middle and senior classes be enabled to design and conduct their own investigations, controlling relevant variables. The school is referred to Primary School Curriculum: Science - Teacher Guidelines (page 56).
4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics
Mathematics lessons are generally well structured and taught at an appropriate pace. Pupils are encouraged to ask questions. Lesson content is linked effectively to the pupils’ own experience and concrete materials are used successfully in most lessons. Some teachers use a commendable variety of teaching methodologies, including talk and discussion, pair work and group work. There is also good use of mathematical games. The school makes effective provision for the learning of number facts.
It is recommended that all teachers make regular use of concrete materials as well as tasks for pairs and small groups of pupils. The school plan emphasises that language development is central to all activities in Mathematics. This is reflected in the work of most teachers. Some teachers use visual aids to good effect to enable pupils to learn and use mathematical vocabulary. It is recommended that this be done in all classrooms. It is evident that greater use could be made of the calculator as a learning tool for pupils in fourth, fifth and sixth classes.
There is provision in the school plan for the development of mathematical skills. It is clear that the plan is being implemented effectively in some classrooms. It is important, in the interests of continuity and progression, however, to ensure that the school plan is being implemented on a whole-school basis.
Pupils’ achievement in Mathematics is assessed through teacher observation, teacher-designed tests and standardised tests. The pupils’ copybooks are monitored closely. When questioned, some pupils find it difficult to recall certain concepts and procedures. Regular revision of topics covered and widespread use of charts and other visual aids would make it easier for all pupils to remember what has been taught. It is recommended that class programmes in Mathematics be designed and implemented with a view to ensuring that they are sufficiently stimulating and challenging for more able pupils.
4.3 Quality of supplementary teaching for pupils in Mathematics
Supplementary teaching in Mathematics is provided by the learning-support teachers, resource teachers and resource teachers for children of the Traveller community. While pupils are usually withdrawn in groups from their mainstream class, the support teachers also work with pupils in their own mainstream classes. Individual learning programmes, which are based on the results of assessments, are prepared and reviewed regularly. These programmes are shared with parents, class teachers, the principal and special-needs assistants. The support teachers also prepare short-term plans and keep samples of pupils’ work for assessment purposes. Lessons are well structured and a variety of methodologies and resources is used.
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.