An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Uimhir rolla: 18563U
Date of inspection: 13 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
An evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in Scoil Bhríde was undertaken in November 2007. The evaluation focused on the provision for Science and Mathematics and on the quality of pupils’ achievement in these curricular areas. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
1. School background and context
Eglantine is an all girls national school situated on the Douglas road and approximately three kilometres from the city centre. The current enrolment is 665 and the school has the distinction of being the largest girls’ school in Ireland.. The school occupies a most attractive site and has undergone major refurbishment and extension over the years. The school is under the patronage of the Bishop of Cork and admirably aims to develop the academic, spiritual, personal and social skills of its pupils.
The staff consists of principal, deputy principal, twenty four mainstream class teachers, together with four special education teachers. An additional teacher teaches computer studies to all classes. The school’s full-time secretary provides a high measure of administrative support and her efficiency is greatly appreciated by principal and staff. The school’s caretaker makes a significant contribution to the care of the school grounds, and these are maintained to a most appealing standard. The decorative order of classrooms is good, as are the overall standards of hygiene and cleanliness throughout the school.
Close links have been established with parents, they are welcome to meet teachers informally, by prior appointment during the school year as concerns arise, and formally through the annual parent-teacher meetings. Parents are very supportive of the school, they are generous with their time in organising and supporting events and initiatives throughout the year. Commendably they contribute to policy sub-committees, they actively support the Green School’s programme and regularly engage in fundraising activities.
The school offers a wide and varied curriculum. Eglantine is part of the School of Music Suzuki programme, with cello and violin taught by external teachers. A visiting teacher teaches creative dance to all classes. Cookery is taught by class teachers to pupils in sixth class. The school also is part of the project on modern languages, with French taught to the senior classes.
A reasonable effort is made to ensure teachers have the opportunity of experiencing a variety of classes and contexts over a number of years and to that end management is advised to devise a policy that will facilitate a regular rotation of teacher allocation, thus maintaining teacher enthusiasm and a distribution of teaching talents throughout the school.
2. Provision and use of resources
2.1 Resources for Science
The school is well resourced in terms of equipment and resources for Science and a detailed inventory of equipment is currently available in the school plan. Equipment is stored in a central location, from which teachers borrow on a sign-in sign-out basis as necessary. A science coordinator has been appointed and she is responsible for the ordering, auditing and management of equipment and materials. In consultation with colleagues she also takes responsibility for the further development of Science, organising initiatives and external visitors to enhance the school programme. She exhibits a creditable enthusiasm for her duties. Staff has identified the school grounds and its environs as a productive resource for Science. A number of trails have been identified and these areas are used to support the implementation of the science curriculum at different periods throughout the school year. Following a review of Science in May a school garden has been identified for further development as a valuable resource for Science. The textbook is used to varying degrees throughout the school. A number of teachers exploit it solely as a guiding resource in Science, while in other classrooms pupils use it regularly during learning activities.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and its accompanying software are regularly recognised by staff as a valuable resource in the teaching of Science. Its potential is exploited most efficiently by staff for planning and display purposes, most notably in the use of the digital camera in giving prominence to pupils’ work. The internet is available in each classroom and is regularly accessed by teachers for information and research purposes.
In an effort to develop their skills further, staff has participated in a limited number of professional development activities. These include attendance at inservice days and participation in summer courses. The staff has availed of the services of a cuiditheoir for Science, and this resulted in reviewing and updating of the school plan. The school has established productive links with outside agencies such as An Taisce, UCC, Heritage Ireland and Engineers’ Ireland. Visitors to the school are regularly entertained and their additional knowledge is productively utilised to enrich the pupils’ knowledge and to develop the teachers’ skill base. It is recommended that staff continues in its efforts to access useful training in Science and to avail further of the services of the cuiditheoir in developing specific strands at class level.
2.2 Resources for Mathematics
Overall the school is very well resourced and the principal, mathematics coordinator and teachers add to the comprehensive supply of teaching materials and equipment on a regular basis. Each classroom bears witness to substantial investment in securing a variety of items that facilitate the acquisition of mathematical concepts across the curricular strands. An inventory of the mathematics equipment is provided as an appendix in the school plan and this serves as a useful guide to the location of the various items throughout the school, whether they are deposited in classrooms or in the mathematics room. In broad outline, the several items included in the inventory are designed to support a growing understanding of number, shape and space, measures (both standard and non-standard) and observation of lessons gives assurance that the materials are used to effect throughout the school. In addition to the various concrete items designed to facilitate a useful hands-on experience, there is a comprehensive collection of mathematics texts and manuals, as well as a large number of tapes and audio disks that are seen to be highly effective in promoting individual and group approaches. There is a praiseworthy emphasis on computer technology both in the classrooms and in the dedicated Information Communication Technology (ICT) room, and much of the work is underpinned by a comprehensive collection of software that has been chosen carefully and directly focused on the wide range of ability from infants to senior classes. Again the various items are usefully listed in the school’s inventory. The children’s’ enthusiasm for the computer based learning, and its combination with their teachers’ purposeful and balanced attention, makes a significant contribution to regular imaginative and challenging encounters with mathematical concepts throughout the school.
A key strength of the school is seen in its planning processes. Acutely aware of the value of quality planning in the promotion and maintenance of school development in Science, the staff in conjunction with the principal engage in high quality and purposeful whole school planning on a systematic basis.The school has established effective procedures to ensure teachers collaborate closely with each other and have succeeded in creating an environment that nurtures innovation and encourages the contributions of all staff members. In this context, staff members meet in groups at junior, middle and senior sections and plan at a local level. One representative is subsequently selected from each group, and they in turn meet with the coordinator and principal to finalise the school plan for Science. The coordinator plays a key role in liaising with the various groups throughout the process. In the further development of the coordinator’s role, management could usefully consider extending the role to include the elements of monitoring, implementation and evaluation.
The school plan is guided by documents provided by the PCSP and provides a valuable guide to classroom planning and practice. All strands are covered and specific reference is made to key methodologies, to curriculum breadth and depth, to language and integration, to linkage with the immediate and wider community and to a commitment to continuous professional development. Structures are in place at staff meetings, convened five times in the year, that allow for regular review and discussion. As needs are identified an action plan is devised to ensure that these needs are addressed. Of late staff have creditably set the following targets in their action plan: the pursuit of green flag status; the development of a school garden and the organisation of external visits from local industries. The school plan identifies a variety of assessment procedures,that include teacher observation, teacher devised tasks, concept mapping, projects and the maintenance of samples of pupils’ work, among others.
In the further development of the school plan, the inclusion of an environmental audit would add considerably to the development of Science. In this context, staff is advised to develop a conservation code that will guide activity in exploring the environment. A strategy to cover all strand units over a two –year period could also be considered.
The school has prepared a plan for Mathematics that was produced by means of a collaborative process rooted in wide ranging discussion and debate. It is comprehensive in nature and is clearly rooted in a determination to promote progression and continuity. This is reflected in policy statements that seek to effect a cohesive approach to the use of language in the development of conceptual understanding and to the implementation of approaches that are central to Primary School Curriculum (1999). Accordingly, there are policies on active learning and guided discovery, on collaborative/ cooperative learning and on problem solving. Also, regard is had for Mathematics in the environment, the skills to be acquired and the levels of written presentation that are deemed acceptable. The whole school planning for Mathematics also acknowledges the importance of assessment as a vital tool for learning and to this end various tests are identified. These include teacher-devised tests, criterion referenced/ diagnostic tests, and standardised tests. In addition, there is reference to informal tests in which teachers regularly engage in pupil observation throughout the lesson and question pupils systematically to assess their levels of understanding.
Also, teachers maintain a monthly record of topics covered and this proves to be a device of value in promoting a measured level of progression and an avoidance of duplication. However, its potential could be exploited further by including a greater level of detail and to that end it is recommended that as part of its deliberations on the evolving school plan the staff devotes some effort to the devising of a more comprehensive, yet still practical, monthly template that will identify progress and at the same time point to areas of challenge for classes or groups or individuals within classes. This might gainfully be seen as a component of the schools action plan for the coming school year.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 0061/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation was also provided that these child protection procedures have been brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents; that a copy of the procedures has been provided to all staff ; and that management has ensured that all staff are familiar with the procedures to be followed. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.
The quality of classroom planning for Science is good and gives testimony to a conscientious effort to implement the principal elements of the school plan. Long and short-term plans are duly referenced to Primary School Curriculum (1999) and its constituent strands and strand units. The learning aims and objectives are clearly outlined in terms of the skills and concepts to be developed. Commendable reference is also made to methodologies, to integration and assessment and to the incorporation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the learning process. Teachers plan their lessons wisely, ensuring there is good variety in activities that meets appropriately the pupils’ varying interests and their levels of understanding. There is a noted consistency in approaches to individual teachers’ plans that reflects positively on the school’s effective collaborative practices.
Conscious of the fact that assessment is an integral component of the planning process, staff has devised a useful template to record work completed at the end of each month. It is desirable, in the pursuit of best practice, that a greater measure of detail be provided to include for example, skills mastered. This would allow for the level of detail that stimulates creative reflection on learning outcomes.
Generally the quality of classroom planning for Mathematics is very good and teachers’ short and long term schemes of work give witness to a purposeful effort to implement the agreed elements of the school mathematics plan. These documents are directly referenced to the various strands and strand units outlined in Primary School Curriculum (1999) and prove useful in identifying the range and suitability of topics that will be covered. Clearly textbooks are used as an aid to planning but, appropriately, only in a limited and measured way. The production of worksheets forms a regular element of teacher planning and it is clear from lesson observation and discussion with staff that there is a critical understanding not only of their value in facilitating challenging group work but also there is a welcome awareness that they may lead to an undue emphasis on mere computational exercises. While acknowledging that the schemes of work provide only a limited indication of the depth of preparation, it is recommended that in some cases a more detailed specification of learning objectives in the short-term plans would considerably enhance reflection on how the programme for the following days might be most successfully delivered. A notable feature of the planning is seen in the high levels of collaboration that take place between the three teachers of each class level. This is seen in regular fruitful consultation and a monthly collaboration that results in a set of plans that enhance individual efforts and ensures that all three classes at that particular level proceed at an even pace.
Staff is commended in their delivery of a broad and balanced programme in Science. The quality of teaching observed at all class levels was very good. Lessons are carefully structured, well-paced and developed. Teachers give clear explanation to pupils, present content clearly and their use of skilful questioning ensures pupils are challenged at all class levels. Commendable efforts are made to involve all pupils, with teachers regularly adapting their approaches to meet the varying needs of pupils in their respective classes. Teachers employ a variety of methodologies that embrace; whole-class teaching, group work and individual tuition, with a worthy emphasis on cooperative learning during hands-on activity. The teachers are to be commended on their creation of a classroom environment that supports learning in Science. Careful attention is given to developing pupils’ understanding of fair testing. Illustrative materials, are used effectively and samples of pupils’ writing, illustrations, and experiments are displayed and celebrated. The corridors and assembly areas are utilised effectively for display purposes and contain attractive exhibits of pupils’ work. ICT is used efficiently in a number of classes for display purposes. Nature and investigation tables are a feature in all classes and add aesthetically to the learning environment. Science lessons are regularly and successfully integrated with other curricular areas, and most particularly evidenced in Geography, in Mathematics and in the Visual Arts.
The pupils are courteous and responsive and display a noted enthusiasm for learning in Science. They regularly undertake experiments and science related projects such as Knex Challenge. Their scientific skill are developed effectively and their careful recording of work in copies is of commendable quality. Their planning, presentation and organisation skills are greatly enhanced as they take full responsibility in arranging an open day for parents in May. In addition staff members and pupils are to be applauded for their involvement in the Green Schools initiative.
As part of this evaluation, two sets of tasks were administered to the pupils in infants to sixth
class. The first set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ conceptual knowledge. In the strand Materials, most pupils mastered the concept of Properties and Characteristics of Materials, and fewer than half developed mastery of the concept of Materials and Change. In Environmental Awareness and Care, the majority of pupils achieved mastery in the three strand units; Environmental Awareness, Science and the Environment and Care for the Environment. In the strand Energy and Forces, the majority of pupils achieved mastery in Forces, in Sound and in Light. Most pupils demonstrated mastery of the concept of Heat and fewer than half demonstrated mastery in Magnetism and Electricity. In the strand Living Things, most pupils demonstrated mastery in Myself and the majority of pupils achieved mastery in Human Life and in Plant and Animal Life.
The second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ procedural knowledge. Results were varied, with a few pupils achieving mastery in the senior classes, fewer than half in the junior classes and the majority of pupils in the middle classes. Results also indicate that a small number can plan fair tests in the middle classes and a few in the senior classes.
In general, pupils are making good progress in Science. The staff has shown worthy commitment to the promotion of science activities and to the development of pupils’ skills and understanding. Overall the majority of pupils achieve mastery in conceptual knowledge. Arising from the assessment tests it appears that there is scope for development in cultivating pupils’ procedural knowledge and in developing pupils’ abilities to plan fair tests. Pupils would also benefit from an improved emphasis on the further development of the skills required in the planning of Designing and Making activities.
The quality of teaching and learning in all classrooms is praiseworthy and the school is due commendation for its delivery of a broad and balanced mathematics programme that is rooted in Primary School Curriculum (1999) with its wide-ranging framework of strands and strand units. Teachers are succeeding admirably in promoting a positive learning atmosphere: lessons are well-paced, clear explanations and instructions are given and questioning is used effectively to check and develop understanding. Praise is used appropriately to motivate, and hands-on activity is a central element of each lesson. Whole class teaching constitutes the greater part of each lesson but, mindful of differences in ability, teachers employ a high measure of individualised and group approaches, together with peer tutoring. This is commendable and serves to bind the class into a cohesive learning unit that puts a premium on the promotion of self-esteem and on tasks that are matched to ability and potential. It is noted that there is a high level of continuity from class to class and when progress records are further refined, as adverted to in paragraph 3.1, it is likely that progress will be further enhanced. An examination of written work establishes that pupils are set challenging yet appropriate tasks which they usually address with high levels of success. Generally their copybook work is presented in a neat and well-ordered fashion and the work is regularly monitored and marked. When results of standardised tests are scrutinised the pupils mastery of concepts is seen to effect: in short, the scores are highly impressive and testify to a successful interplay of positive socio-economic factors and good teaching. It is noted that staff are addressing the enhancing of problem-solving skills as part of its action plan and this can be viewed as an important and necessary initiative. The school uses a small room for its computer based learning, and from infants to senior classes all children are introduced systematically to the rich possibilities of computer technology by a highly qualified member of staff. Clearly the children are most interested in the various tasks set, and they attend to the various challenges presented in a highly enthusiastic and industrious manner.
The special education team comprises four learning support/ resource teachers who attend to their duties in a highly professional and conscientious fashion. Again here, a notable feature is seen in the collaborative nature of their work. They consult on a regular basis, individual progress is discussed in detail and each member supplements the efforts of colleagues in a variety of ways. Detailed records of progress are maintained and these become a valuable basis for further focused planning; and, appropriately, they are shared with class teachers. All this is motivated by a desire to secure an appropriate match between individual plans and individual children’s ability and, with it, a determination to ensure that support is provided in a sensitive manner that does not negatively affect self-esteem. The staged approach to assessment, identification and programme implementation is implemented and individual education plans are prepared on the basis of a careful diagnosis of needs. These are characterised by a high degree of detail and relevance and are formulated in collaboration with class teachers and parents. Plans include specific targets in Mathematics, and literacy too, and a timeframe for review is identified. Appropriately, this strategy is undertaken in collaboration with class teachers and parents. Mindful of the crucial importance of delivering a measured level of support that ultimately enhances rather than lowers a child’s self-esteem, the special education team withdraws children from class only when it appears clearly necessary to do so, and then they do so as infrequently as possible. Their preferred approach pivots on within-class support, and within this context the support of other children is enlisted in an innocuous yet purposeful peer tutoring scenario. In practice, on various occasions the within-class practice sees the class teacher taking the learning support and the support teacher taking the lesson of the day. In this way, learning support/ resource teacher attention is not seen as a demotivating label of failure. Instead, the operation leads to a welcome and discreet remediation of weaknesses that in fact are often identified by the children themselves to their teachers. This is an example of good practice and is commendable.
The school plan contains a number of sections that deal with the strategy for the provision of special needs support. Teaching approaches are specified and there is reference too to children of exceptional ability, together with equality of participation. However, the policy as outlined in the documentation is short in detail and ought to be developed to show in greater detail how, for example, the staged process actually works. It is recommended that this be addressed and one can be confident that the process of further, focused deliberation that this will entail will go in no small way to a further shaping and developing of teacher reflection on special needs policy.
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:
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.