An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Name of School
Scoil Íde, Jesus and Mary Primary
Ardnamara, Salthill, Galway
Uimhir rolla: 18634R
Date of inspection: 11 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 12 March 2008
An evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in Scoil Íde 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.
Scoil Íde is located in a mature residential area within a short walk of the seafront at Salthill, Galway. The school provides the usual eight-year educational programme for girls as well as a three-year programme for boys from junior infants to first class. The school has an administrative principal, eleven mainstream class teachers and five teachers working in support roles. The current enrolment is 303.
There is an abundance of evidence to suggest that the school’s most valuable resource, the teaching staff, is managed and developed effectively. There is a strong culture of professionalism in the school, which enjoys a very good reputation in the local community and beyond. The principal is to be commended for her skill in maintaining high levels of morale and commitment among the teachers. Responsibility for the co-ordination of Science and Mathematics in the school has been delegated to an assistant principal and a special-duties teacher respectively.
For two years prior to the national in-service programme for Science, this school was involved in the Primary Curriculum Support Programme’s (PCSP) developmental project in Science, which aimed to build capacity for the implementation of the Science curriculum. For this and other reasons, the range and variety of whole-school Science activities is greater than that to be found in most Irish primary schools. The school’s participation in the Green Schools programme, Forfás’s Discover Primary Science and similar initiatives provides valuable professional-development opportunities for teachers. Staff members have also attended formal courses in both Science and Mathematics. Several visiting experts have assisted teachers and pupils with aspects of the Science programme.
There is exemplary use of the school’s local environment as a resource for learning in Science and Mathematics. From a Science perspective, there are frequent visits to a range of local habitats and good use of centres such as the Atlantaquarium. Although the school grounds are not extensive, they have been developed effectively as a resource for the teaching of Science. A variety of tree species has been planted. The trees are labelled clearly on a map of the school grounds. Teachers and pupils also have easy access to information on each species and a ‘biography’ of each individual tree. One of the most original of the many successful whole-school Science activities is the ‘adopt-a-tree’ programme. Each class is assigned one of the trees in the school grounds. The assigned tree becomes the basis for various Science activities and cross-curricular projects, including Mathematics activities. All classes are involved in maintaining and exploring the school garden. The pupils also participate in composting, recycling and bird-feeding.
Mathematics trails and Mathematics-based playground games are provided in the school grounds. Mathematics activities undertaken in the immediate locality include exercises based on house numbers and signs, and class trips to the local shop. The school has an appropriate range of materials and equipment for Science and Mathematics and there is evidence that these are used effectively in teaching and learning. Information and communication technologies (ICT) are used by every teacher. Appropriate software is available for the teaching of both Science and Mathematics. A range of Mathematics software is used effectively by the learning-support and resource teachers.
3. Quality of whole -school planning in Science and in Mathematics
The Science co-ordinator deserves immense credit for the work that has gone into planning for Science at a whole-school level. The whole-school plan for Science sets out the school’s vision, aims and objectives for this curricular area. The key emphases of the Primary School Curriculum are acknowledged. There are particularly useful statements of the school’s policies regarding safety in Science activities and the use of the local environment. The plan also includes a detailed inventory of the school’s Science equipment and materials.
The main section of the school plan lists the objectives to be achieved by pupils in the strands Living things, Energy and forces, Materials and Environmental awareness and care at each of the two-year class levels. The teachers have also prepared a separate planner that identifies the strand units to be covered in each year. It is recommended that this document be inserted into the school plan. In addition, it is recommended that the objectives to be achieved in the strands Designing and making and Working scientifically be stated as part of the class programmes. Finally, it is recommended that activities in the school grounds and the local environment be included as part of the programme for each class, rather than in a separate section of the plan. By ensuring that the school plan is an accurate reflection of current good practice, the school will be enabled to maintain high standards, even in the event of personnel changes.
The Mathematics co-ordinator leads the other teachers in developing and reviewing the school plan for Mathematics. Much of this work is conducted at staff meetings or on school planning days. There is also regular discussion of relevant issues on an informal basis. The staff notice board is used effectively to disseminate information. Reviews of the Mathematics plan are informed by the results of standardised and teacher-designed assessment tests as well as teachers’ observations.
In preparing the school plan for Mathematics, the school has made good use of the support that is available from the PCSP and the School Development Planning Support (SDPS) service. The plan for Mathematics is comprehensive and clearly laid out. It is specific to the needs and resources of Scoil Íde and is reviewed regularly, most recently in September 2007. The balance betweeen the mastery of skills and the acquisition of knowledge in the plan is commendable.
The plan outlines the range of methodologies to be used in the teaching of Mathematics in the school. It addresses how activities will be differentiated by teachers for pupils with different needs, including pupils with exceptional ability. The school has a significant number of pupils for whom English is not their first language. The Mathematics plan states that appropriate mathematical language will be reinforced by the language-support teachers who work with these pupils. There is no specific reference to Mathematics, however, in the school’s language-support policy. It is recommended that either the Mathematics plan or the language-support policy be amended to include a description of the strategies to be used to assist pupils for whom English is not the first language.
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 (including all new 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.
Classroom planning for Science is excellent. Each teacher prepares a comprehensive long-term plan and more detailed short-term plans in which there are clear learning outcomes and effective provision for vocabulary development and differentiation. The short-term plans make reference to the skills strands as well as the content strands of the curriculum. All teachers keep useful monthly records of work completed.
All teachers prepare a broad and balanced programme in Mathematics. The schemes of work provided in all classes lay out clearly the work to be done over the long term and short term. The concepts to be taught and the methodologies and resources to be used are outlined. There is appropriate attention to differentiating the work for pupils with special educational needs. There is also effective planning for classroom assessment in Mathematics.
At the end of each month every teacher completes a monthly progress record that shows what part of the programme was taught during that month. The principal keeps all of these records on file in a central location. The records inform whole-school planning and are used to confirm that a broad, balanced programme is being delivered.
The learning-support and resource teachers who provide supplementary tuition in Mathematics prepare individual programmes for the pupils with whom they work. Parents are included in this process. The teachers use appropriate diagnostic tests and keep detailed records of pupil progress.
This school has been highly successful in developing appropriate attitudes, knowledge and skills in the area of Science. Each teacher provides a high-quality learning environment for the pupils in her care. The classroom climates are generally lively and engaging. There is effective use of charts and other displays that make it easier for pupils to understand and remember what is taught.
Lessons in Science are well structured and paced appropriately. Pupils in most classrooms get regular opportunities to do practical, ‘hands-on’ activities in pairs and small groups. Learning objectives and activities are adapted for pupils with different needs. A support teacher works alongside the class teacher to provide additional help for particular pupils during certain Science activities. This type of collaboration is beneficial to the target pupils and is to be commended.
Illustrative charts and cards are used to support and reinforce language development. There is consistent use of Science vocabulary by teachers across the school. There is scope, however, for more frequent use of questions and tasks that would require sustained oral contributions from the pupils.
Some of the lessons seen during the evaluation were from the strand Designing and making. These lessons were well structured and involved excellent use of equipment and illustrative materials. It is recommended that there be a greater emphasis on the exploring and planning aspects of the Designing and making process. A recommendation regarding whole-school planning for Designing and making is to be found in section 3.1 of this report.
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. The strand in which pupils performed best was Environmental awareness and care, in which most of the pupils had achieved the objectives being tested. In the strand Materials, pupil achievement was very good in the strand unit Properties and characteristics of materials. Pupils performed less well on the tasks based on the strand unit Materials and change and the strands Living things and Energy and forces.
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 performed very well on these tasks and demonstrated sound procedural knowledge. The teachers are to be commended for this. There is evidence that good work is being done on skills development in individual classes. A recommendation is made in section 3.1 of this report with a view to consolidating this work.
A small number of teachers have begun to assess pupil achievement in Science, by using Hands-On Science: Tasks to Support Assessment for Learning and Teaching, a resource that has been developed for use in Irish primary schools by staff at St. Patrick’s College of Education. The teachers are to be commended for taking these first steps in the formative assessment of pupil achievement in Science. This approach provides a means of measuring pupil outcomes and of ensuring that pupil achievement is in line with curriculum objectives. It is recommended that the practice be extended to all classrooms over a period of time.
The teaching of Mathematics is undertaken competently in every class in the school. The quality of teaching in most classes is very good. This is reflected in high levels of pupil achievement. In every class there are a significant number of pupils who show a remarkably high level of mathematical knowledge and ability. A positive attitude towards Mathematics is fostered throughout the school and all pupils are encouraged to do their best. As a consequence, even pupils who find Mathematics difficult still enjoy the lessons and usually do relatively well in this curricular area.
All aspects of the Mathematics curriculum are well covered. In the infant classes commendable emphasis is placed on Early mathematical activities. The good foundation laid in these classes ensures that almost all pupils are well-equipped to progress to the more challenging work as they move up through the school. A wide variety of mathematical equipment is used effectively to enhance pupils’ learning.
Most of the pupils show a very good understanding of Number and can manage number operations and balance equations at a level appropriate to their age. Place value has received considerable attention. This ensures that most pupils can work well with numbers of all sizes.
The work done on Algebra is particularly praiseworthy. Almost all pupils can solve basic algebra equations. Creditable work has also been done on directed numbers. Most of the pupils clearly enjoy the lessons on Data and chance. The pupils in every class show a good understanding of Measures.
Because of the emphasis placed on the teaching of mathematical language, most pupils have a good knowledge of mathematical terms across all of the strands. There is an appropriate emphasis on problem-solving in every strand. The pupils record their work neatly and copies are checked and corrected regularly by the teachers.
There are various types and levels of intervention for pupils who need support in Mathematics. Supplementary teaching is managed in a systematic and comprehensive way.
The importance of Mathematics in the school is shown by the division of each of the middle and senior classes into two mixed-ability groups for Mathematics lessons. One half of each of these classes is taught by their regular class teacher. The other half of the class is taught by one of the support teachers. This approach increases the amount of attention that the teachers can give to individual pupils.
The school prioritises early intervention to identify and support pupils who find Mathematics difficult. The learning-support teachers assist the teachers of infant classes in their classrooms during Mathematics lessons. From first class onwards, pupils who need additional assistance are withdrawn from class to receive intensive instruction from the learning-support and resource teacher, as appropriate. This system has worked well. Different levels of support are available to pupils according to their needs. The continuation of support for pupils is reviewed termly on a case-by-case basis. Where a pupil’s achievement in Mathematics has improved sufficiently, learning-support is discontinued for that pupil. The school also has two language-support teachers who work with pupils for whom English is not the first language.
There is effective collaboration among the teachers and between parents and teachers in the provision of supplementary teaching for Mathematics. The operation of the support-teacher system is reviewed regularly with a view to maintaining and developing this high-quality service.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation.
· The school makes excellent use of the school grounds and the local environment as resources for learning in Science.
· There is a commendable emphasis on vocabulary development in Science lessons.
· There are effective opportunities for pupils to work together on ‘hands-on’ Science activities.
· Pupils demonstrate well-developed procedural understanding in Science. They are enabled to design a fair test, controlling relevant variables.
· Pupils also demonstrate a particularly good understanding of concepts relating to Environmental awareness and care.
· The school-planning process for Mathematics is very effective. The plan is clearly laid out and reviewed regularly.
· Effective teaching methods in Mathematics are used in all classes.
· Pupils’ achievement in Mathematics throughout the school is very impressive.
· There is a positive and enthusiastic attitude to Mathematics in the school.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made.
· With a view to consolidating and developing the good practice that was observed during the evaluation, it is recommended that the school plan for Science be revised so that it
o states the objectives to be achieved in the strands Designing and making and Working scientifically as part of the class programmes
o includes the use of local resources as part of the class programmes
· It is recommended that the practice of using assessment tasks to measure pupil achievement in Science be extended to all classrooms over a period of time.
· It is recommended that either the Mathematics plan or the language-support policy be amended to include a description of the strategies to be used to assist pupils for whom English is not the first language.
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.