An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
SN Bhéal Átha an Lúbaigh,
Contae Thiobraid Árann
Uimhir rolla: 18582B
Date of inspection: 17 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
An evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in Ballylooby National School was undertaken in October 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.
This school occupies an attractive, spacious site in the little village of Ballylooby. It serves a well-established rural community and enrols a total of 157 boys and girls from infants to sixth class. Built in 1962, the main building comprises five classrooms, and in an adjacent prefabricated unit there is another classroom and a learning support base. A permanent classroom and resource room attached to the school building are under construction at present. The decorative order of the building is fairly good, the grounds are well maintained and the whole complex is well fenced. The school is under the patronage of the Bishop of Waterford and the central ethos is based on principles of inclusiveness and respect for others within a caring environment. The staff consists of principal and five mainstream teachers, together with one full time learning support/resource teacher and another who is shared with a nearby school. The children exhibit a positive attitude to learning: in general they are alert, responsive and happy and prove enthusiastic in demonstrating the range and depth of their learning.
Close links have been established with parents, and the school staff readily acknowledges their contribution to the maintenance of standards. The Parents’ Association undertakes fundraising initiatives on a regular basis and this has enabled the school acquire various items of equipment and learning materials. A formal consultative meeting concerning pupil progress is convened each year and, in addition, parents are welcome to consult with teachers on an informal basis at mutually suitable times; and indeed they regularly do so.
2.1 Resources for Science
Overall the school is fairly well resourced and the principal, Science coordinator and staff supplement the collections of teaching materials and equipment on a regular basis. They have made a considerable investment in securing a multiplicity of materials and the level of resourcing is now adequate to support a high level of hands-on learning activity across the various curricular strands. Among the items procured are models of the human heart and teeth, bug viewers, magnets, stethoscopes, lenses, prisms, microscopes and magnifying glasses, graduated cylinders, compasses, syringes, batteries and ancillary connections. In addition, there are DVDs, illustrative charts and a variety of texts that are based on human and environmental themes. Appropriately, equipment and materials are stored in a central location and teachers draw from this as the need arises. The staff identifies the rich rural surrounding of the school as a valuable resource for learning about Living Things and Environment and, accordingly, the observation of natural phenomena is a feature of the work in all classrooms. However, in order that the teaching of Science in the school will continue to be a source of interest and wonder for the pupils, it is appropriate that the staff is facilitated in undertaking in-career development on a systematic basis. It is noted that School Development Programme personnel have made a valuable and appreciated contribution in positioning the school to deliver the Science programme but apart from these initiatives staff engagement in in-career courses has been limited. This is a matter of regret and the staff highlights the need for school based support. In the meantime, they will continue to seek out useful training in Science and the board of management will encourage them in this worthy enterprise.
2.2 Resources for Mathematics
The staff is diligent in providing a caring learning environment which facilitates the nurturing of each child’s potential. In collaboration with the principal and staff, the coordinator for Mathematics has undertaken commendable work in relation to the provision of materials and planning for this area. An inventory of equipment and resources has been compiled and is available in the school plan. A wide range of quality mathematical equipment together with relevant illustrative materials is provided throughout the school to support the effective teaching and learning of Mathematics. Resources are maintained in individual teacher classrooms. Most classrooms have displays of charts and provide number-rich environments. Two classrooms in particular are quite small and seriously limit the opportunities for display purposes. There is a need for additional space and the board have undertaken considerable work with a view to resolving this issue. In the interests of maximising the availability of resources throughout the school a more centralised system could be developed. Staff members regularly participate in professional development courses in improving their skills in the teaching of Mathematics. There is one full-time and one part-time special needs assistant who support pupil learning under the direction of the teachers.
In the on-going development of Mathematics in the school, staff might gainfully consider making a more regular use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a resource for learning in Mathematics. Also, a greater focus on the potential of the school’s environment to promote Mathematics would be of advantage, and it is recommended that mathematics trails be developed and used at all class levels. The school has not availed of the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) cuiditheoir service. It is recommended that this valuable service should be accessed in the future development of mathematical activity in the school.
A school plan outlining elements of school policy, both curricular and non-curricular, has been formulated. Science forms one element of the plan and outlined therein is the school’s Science policy and the staff’s strategy for the teaching of Science throughout the school. Reformulated by means of a collaborative process in recent weeks, it seeks to provide a broad and well-balanced programme that has due regard for guided discovery and hands-on activity within a framework that places a particular emphasis on environmental awareness and the study of living creatures. The staff has prepared a detailed programme for each class that is rooted in the strand and strand unit framework for Science. All constituent strands and strand units are covered and there is some provision made for linkages with other areas of the curriculum to complement the learning. It is noted that the support documentation supplied by School Development Programme personnel, together with their accompanying advice, have been clearly used to effect in promoting continuity and progression over a wide range of suitable topics. Within this scenario of systematic development, it is recommended that in conjunction with its current determination to establish a school garden the staff should plan for the provision of an environmental audit of the school grounds that will lead to the creation of science trails in the immediate environment.
In acknowledging that assessment of progress constitutes an important aspect of pupil learning, all teachers maintain a monthly record of topics covered. They recognise its rich potential for promoting a measured level of progression and avoidance of duplication. In addition, they engage in pupil observation on a regular basis throughout the lesson and they question pupils systematically to assess their levels of understanding. All this is good and worthy of commendation, but it can be developed further. In this regard it is recommended that staff includes a greater measure of detail in progress records so that the growth in science skills and understanding of science concepts can be identified with greater ease. The plotting of this information would make a significant contribution to the individual teacher’s planning of further experiences to match the pupils’ achievement levels.
The school has prepared a school plan that is clear and concise and embraces the main areas of interest and concern that are central to the mathematics curriculum. This plan involved all members of staff and was ratified by the board of management. The plan commendably reflects the principles of the curriculum. It clearly draws attention to key aspects such as skill development, problem solving strategies, approaches and methodologies and the development of mathematical language. The school’s assessment strategies are outlined and a variety of tests are identified, including teacher devised tests and standardised tests. The plan successfully makes provision for differentiated approaches. However, how the school plan informs individual teacher planning is not sufficiently clear. Staff might gainfully consider developing greater links between whole-school planning and the planning process at individual teacher level. At staff meetings the monitoring of the implementation of the mathematics curriculum is discussed. Consideration could be given to utilising the progress records as a monitoring tool for school plan implementation. To ensure that the school plan contributes to continuity and progression in pupil’s learning the practices underpinning arrangements for recording of progress should be considered so that a greater measure of detail in progress recording will emerge. It is also recommended that more structures should be put in place to further ensure that the impact of whole-school planning on pupil learning is regularly reviewed through the development of specific action plans to be implemented within agreed time frames. The DES publication Looking at our schools is designed to support this review process.
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 teachers’ short and long term schemes of work give testimony to a conscientious effort to implement the principal elements of the school plan. These documents are directly referenced to the various strands and strand units outlined in Primary School Curriculum (1999) and constitute a useful source in determining the range and appropriateness of topics covered. However, they are rather short in detail and this in practice can lead to a diminution of their potential to shape the process of thought in the preparation of the lesson and in the determination of skills to be mastered. While acknowledging readily that written preparation is but a limited indicator of the breadth and depth of preparation undertaken by the teacher, it is recommended that teachers should work towards offering a higher level of specificity in the preparation of short term schemes of work.
Teachers plan their lessons methodically, making sure that there is good variety in activities that meets pupils’ varying levels of understanding. The style and presentation of individual teachers’ long-term schemes in particular reflects the individual preference of teachers. The majority of work programmes are comprehensive in nature and are linked closely to the structure and content of the curriculum. In terms of the skills and concepts to be developed, the learning goals are clearly outlined in some teachers’ plans. Practice in teachers’ planning is readily amenable to development, and in this regard the devising of a template on a whole-school basis would bring about greater consistency. Fortnightly planning and monthly progress records are recorded in a commercially produced yearly planner. Completed work is systematically documented and these documents are placed on file. Some teachers maintain records of individual pupil progress. In order to build on existing good practice it is recommended that the approaches to recording pupil achievement should be established on a whole-school basis to ensure continuity and progression. This would allow for the level of detail that stimulates creative reflection on learning outcomes. It is also recommended in providing for the varying abilities of their pupils all teachers have copies of individual education plans in their files.
The school is to be congratulated for the impressive start it has made in the delivery of a broad and balanced Science programme that is rooted in Primary School Curriculum (1999) with its comprehensive framework of strands and strand units. Each teacher is succeeding admirably in promoting a positive learning atmosphere, lessons are well paced and the instruction is pitched at a level that is well matched to pupil interest and potential. Both boys and girls participate in oral exchanges that centre on exploration, prediction, analysis and evaluation, and the teachers prove skilful in promoting higher order thinking and reflection. Hands-on activity is a regular feature, there is a systematic process of recording in copybooks and folders and the computer is used to effect. However, there is a certain paucity of illustrative materials and examples of pupils work on display. This is to be addressed as the school year proceeds and will increase motivational levels thereby facilitating quality learning.
As part of this evaluation, either one or two sets of tasks were administered in all six classrooms from infants to sixth class: where one set was administered the focus was on assessing the pupils’ conceptual knowledge, and in classrooms where two were administered the assessment focused on assessing both conceptual and procedural knowledge. In broad outline, the results are encouraging in the conceptual area and reflect creditably on the work of the school; achievement in the procedural area was less marked at infant and senior class level.
When conceptual knowledge is examined in detail it is seen that all pupils tested achieved mastery in Materials and almost all achieved mastery in Living Things and Environmental Awareness. These pupils were in the middle, junior and infant classes. Closer examination of the scoring reveals that in respect of Myself, which is an element of the strand Living Things and was tested in infants, almost all pupils infants achieved mastery. In respect of the strand units of the strand Materials, all pupils tested in the junior classes achieved mastery in Properties and characteristics of materials and Materials and change. This is most commendable.
At senior level the pupils were less successful at their conceptual tasks and an examination of the test scores here indicates that there is some scope for development across the four strand units of Energy and Forces. This would suggest that a more systematic engagement with Light, Sound, Magnetism and Electricity and Forces is warranted.
The second set of tasks focused on pupils’ procedural knowledge in junior, middle and senior classes. Here the performance of all pupils was very good in the middle class but this contrasted in a marked fashion with the achievement levels at junior and senior levels where the pupils were significantly less sure in addressing the challenges presented. This would suggest that attention to developing competence in designing open investigations and planning for variables should be given a more central focus at senior level; and at junior level the importance of analysis and observation could be given a greater emphasis.
The quality of teaching and learning in all classrooms was praiseworthy. Teaching approaches blend the traditional and progressive, and a praiseworthy measure of success attends the conscientious efforts of every teacher. Well-structured whole class teaching together with challenging and varied questioning as a central feature is evidenced in each classroom. Exercises in the memorisation of number facts and engagement in mental mathematical activities are a noteworthy feature in all classes and revision tests are selectively administered. The teachers cope commendably with the organisational demands of having multi-class groupings. They explain patiently, they present content clearly and provide appropriate and structured learning activities. The use of concrete material and discussion is widespread and focused. Active discovery learning methods are commendably utilised by teachers in establishing pupils’ understanding of concepts. Early mathematical activities are carefully covered in the infant classes. Understanding of number operations is progressively extended and facilitated at a pace to suit pupils’ ability as they progress through the school. At all levels, pupils present age-appropriate ability to perform computation and solve problems mentally and in written format. The pupils’ written work is regularly monitored and marked by the teachers, and the importance in ensuring quality in the presentation of pupils’ written work is noted. A suitable emphasis is placed on linking the work in progress to the pupils’ own experiences and to real life practical situations. An examination of mathematical scores attained in standardized tests signals impressive pupil achievement.
As a developmental issue, staff might include in its action-planning the further development of problem-solving strategies together with a renewed emphasis on consolidating the concept of place-value as worthwhile initiatives.
The school enjoys the services of two teachers who serve the special educational needs of eleven pupils in the area of learning support/resource in Mathematics. One is based full-time here in Ballylooby and the other is shared with the neighbouring school of Clogheen. Individual education plans (IEPs) are prepared and subsequent learning programmes are delivered on a termly basis.
There is a significant variability in the quality of teaching provided by the two teachers concerned. This is reflected in some pupils receiving a high level of support that is well matched to their needs and others receiving a service that falls significantly short of this. Those pupils who are well supported have the benefit of individual programmes that are rooted in careful planning based on careful diagnosis of needs and are characterised by a measured degree of detail and relevance. These plans include specific targets, a clear timeframe for review is identified and this strategy is undertaken in collaboration with class teachers and parents.
In contrast, there is little evidence that those pupils who are less well served are being provided with programmes of work that offer an appropriate level of systematic challenge. The unsuitability of the programmes offered is a matter of great concern when they are matched to the identified educational needs of certain pupils. Specifically, pupils are not tested diagnostically following standardised testing; targets are not specific, timed or measured, and no records of pupil progress are maintained; and there is an identifiable lack of awareness of the principles of learning support, as outlined in Special Education circular 02/05. This shortfall, together with a reluctance to engage in continuous professional development, impacts negatively on the quality of support for pupils. It is recommended that a review of the schools’ policy in special education needs should take place and this ought to provide for the following issues: the incorporation of the staged model of intervention in supporting pupils; the availability of all individual profile and learning programmes (IPLP) to class teachers to ensure continuity and progression; an assessment of pupils’ progress that incorporates diagnostic testing; the inclusion of ‘smart’ (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timed) targets that address the identified educational needs of pupils; and the provision of in-class support when pupils are withdrawn from class. Additionally, formal structured time should be identified when class teachers and resource and learning support teachers can meet to plan coordinated programmes of support for pupils.
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.