An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation: Science 2007
St. Paul’s Senior National School
Greenhills, Dublin 12
Date of inspection: 02 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 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 1999 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 St. Paul’s Senior 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 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.
St. Paul’s Senior National School is a Catholic primary school under the patronage of the Archbishop of Dublin. It caters for girls from the parish of Greenhills in Walkinstown and from the neighbouring district of Tallaght. The school shares its campus with St. Paul’s Junior National School and enrols pupils from third class upwards. There are 296 pupils enrolled. The staff comprises 11 mainstream class teachers; an administrative principal; three special education teachers, including one shared with the junior school; one concessionary teacher and two Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) coordinators, shared with St. Paul’s Junior School and with St. Peter’s Boys’ School.
The school’s mission places particular emphasis on developing the pupils’ full academic potential in order to prepare them for further education and life-long learning. The teachers are committed to achieving high standards in Science and Mathematics and to cultivating positive attitudes to learning among the pupils. The principal provides strong, visionary leadership in these curriculum areas.
2.1 Resources for Science
There is an extensive range of suitable resources available and in use for the teaching of Science. Grants received from the Department of Education and Science have been used for the purchase of science equipment, the professional development of teachers and the sharing of expertise through visiting speakers and guests. Effective curriculum leadership is provided by the science co-ordinator. Key aspects of this work include the co-ordination of the planning process, the professional development of the staff and the raising of awareness of environmental care issues.
Comprehensive kits are available for all strands of the science curriculum. All kits are centrally stored and easily accessible. The teachers succeed in promoting an appreciation of Science through their preparation of attractive and informative displays. Key scientific concepts are reinforced through the use of posters, labels, fact files, concepts maps and illustrative reference material. Very good provision is made for the reuse and the recycling of materials. The school has been awarded the Green Flag. The school grounds are well kept and include a central planted area and a school garden. The latter incorporates native Irish plants and trees which were planted with the assistance of the pupils.
2.2 Resources for Mathematics
The school is to be highly commended for the level of resources available to support the teaching and learning of Mathematics. The school plan outlines the resources available, the mathematics coordinator arranges displays of mathematics’ resources annually and funding is always made available when resources are listed as priority. The mathematics plan is supported by a comprehensive resource folder. A wide range of charts, materials and equipment, available in each class, enables all teachers to create attractive mathematics-rich environments. Materials to support learning of number, shape, measure and data, along with games, activity cards and computer software are attractively displayed throughout the school and are used very effectively to engage pupils actively in mathematics’ tasks. Class textbooks are used appropriately to support learning and are not the main focus of teaching in any class.
A reflective approach to the deployment of teachers is adopted. At present all mainstream class teachers and one learning-support teacher engage in a banding system to provide support for mathematics learning. This enables pupils to work in groups of similar ability and provides a slightly reduced pupil-teacher ratio. The mathematics coordinator arranges professional development and support for teachers. It is important that the banding system is kept under constant review and that the results of standardised tests are carefully analysed to ensure that pupils are making appropriate progress. The HSCL coordinator is presently training parents to partake in Maths for Fun activities with pupils in third class. A group of parents have already successfully undertaken this work in the junior school and it is hoped to continue this through all classes in time.
3.1 Whole-school planning in Science
A creditable level of planning for Science has been undertaken by the staff under the leadership of the science coordinator. The comprehensive science plan, drawn up in 2004, has been reviewed collaboratively on two occasions. The process of whole-school, collaborative planning is well established and the staff liaise with the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) service regularly. The plan is reflective of the context of the school and addresses all key areas of provision. Clear guidelines are provided for the implementation of a two-year cycle, using a spiral approach, as outlined in the curriculum. All planning is directly informed by the curriculum objectives for the appropriate class level. The use of practical investigations, experiments and hands-on activities is central to curricular planning. The school has compiled its conservation code and an environmental audit. The plan also provides practical ideas and trails regarding the use of the grounds and the local environment.
A variety of approaches to assessment are in use throughout the school. Fact files, concept-maps, work samples, teacher-designed tests and teacher observation of pupils’ work comprise the main assessment techniques. Consideration should be given to devising a whole-school approach for the assessment of pupils’ learning in Science. The sharing of current good practice is advised. It is recommended that assessment approaches be tailored to the specific objectives of the curriculum and that outcomes inform future programmes of learning.
3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics
The school has engaged in comprehensive planning for Mathematics. Planning was initiated through a whole-school review undertaken at an in-service day and is coordinated by the mathematics coordinator. The teachers have worked collaboratively to devise a school policy using the School Development Planning framework. From this policy, programmes of work for each class group have been developed. The policy, which was devised in 2003-2004, was reviewed in June 2006 and ratified by the board of management in December 2006. The plan is presented in an easily accessible format and provides details about the vision, aims, and objectives related to teaching and learning in Mathematics. The teachers are to be praised for the sections in the plan that provide guidance for dealing with the different ability levels of pupils and for individual teacher planning, and for the inclusion of specific language and symbols to be used in the various strands. Of particular note is the success criteria included for ensuring that the policy and programmes are implemented and monitored.
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
The quality of teachers’ planning is good. All teachers provide well-structured individual long-term and short-term plans of work. These plans are based on the programmes of work included in the school plan and include all aspects of the curriculum. Generally, they contain suitable aims, very clearly laid out content, an outline of skills to be developed and preparation for the use of resources. In Mathematics, teachers make provision for the various levels of ability. While some attention is paid to the linkage of strands within the mathematics curriculum, it is recommended that further attention be given to this aspect of work. Planning for pupils with special education needs is comprehensive. Concise monthly records of progress are maintained by all teachers. These records could be further used to review the implementation of curriculum programmes in Mathematics and Science on an ongoing basis.
4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science
There is good teaching of Science throughout the school and some excellent lessons were observed during the evaluation. All lessons are drawn directly from curriculum objectives for each class level. A science-rich environment is successfully promoted. Due emphasis is placed on the teaching of the language of Science and on the consistent use of appropriate resources and reference materials. Lessons are well-structured and paced appropriately. Key concepts and new topics are introduced through the use of practical strategies incorporating brainstorming, concept mapping and concept cartoons. In order to further develop the pupils’ curiosity about and interest in the world, it is advised that greater emphasis be placed on using the pupils’ own scientific questions and ideas as starting points for lessons. The teachers employ a variety of methodologies with confidence. Talk and discussion, demonstrations, experiments, use of the local environment and investigative work are notable features of the lessons observed. There is good provision for the development of the pupils’ designing and making skills in all classes.
The pupils achieve good standards of learning in Science. They are enthusiastic about Science and are highly motivated. Their achievements in relation to Environmental Awareness and Care are praiseworthy. A review of their work in copies, classroom displays, fact files and folders shows evidence of careful recording, the appropriate use of scientific language, a growing understanding of concepts and a progression in their scientific skills. The pupils undertake guided investigations and experiments in a cooperative manner. Their prediction skills require greater development and reinforcement. The pupils display uncertainty in relating key scientific concepts to everyday situations. It is advised that greater attention be given to developing the pupils’ skills in relation to questioning and making inferences.
During the course of the evaluation, the pupils’ knowledge of specific strands of the science curriculum was tested. This was carried out using a set of tasks, drawn from appropriate curriculum objectives, to assess the pupils’ conceptual knowledge. Overall, the pupils display good knowledge of many units of the strand of Energy and Forces, but have yet to master some concepts relating to the strands of Living Things and Materials. The pupils’ procedural scientific skills were also tested. Half of the pupils in the middle classes displayed mastery in designing and planning simple experiments having due regard to controlling relevant variables. More than half of the pupils displayed mastery of these skills in the senior classes. Further promotion of the pupils’ procedural skills is required. It is recommended that pupils be given greater independence in choosing their scientific questions and in selecting their methods of investigations and modes of recording.
4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics
A very positive attitude to Mathematics is cultivated in pupils in all classes. Banding groups are efficiently managed and teachers have developed a positive rapport with all pupils. Lessons are very well organised and structured, and the content and approach is suited to the needs and ability levels of the pupils. It is apparent that all strands of the mathematics curriculum are conscientiously and thoroughly taught throughout the school. Briskly-paced and lively lessons include a combination of whole-class oral work with a focus on language, reinforcement and recall; group or pair work to explore concepts; and some individual work using worksheets. A wide variety of games and resources are very effectively used to cultivate understanding of concepts, to reinforce learning and to recall number facts. Significant efforts are made to ensure that there is consistency is the use of language throughout the school and between the junior and senior schools on the campus.
Within the banded groups, teachers provide individual support where necessary and group interaction is encouraged in all classes. The development of mathematical skills is particularly evident in the current priority of teaching problem-solving strategies. A step-by-step approach, illustrated on a school bookmark, is used regularly throughout the school. Commendable work in relation to communication and expression was observed, with teachers focusing on number and word sentences and on creating number problems verbally. In all classes pupils are encouraged to estimate. The school is aware of the importance of teaching reasoning and this receives some attention through games. The games and challenges used to enhance the recall of number facts are praiseworthy and enable all pupils to participate and to experience success.
All pupils engaged with enthusiasm in oral and written tasks during the evaluation. During oral questioning pupils demonstrated good knowledge of number, including place value and fractions, of data and of shape and space. They undertook written tasks with a degree of confidence and engaged in computation work competently. Many pupils lacked confidence in solving written mathematical problems. Notwithstanding the very good efforts of the teachers, overall achievement levels merit further investigation. It is recommended that the current good practice is further advanced through providing pupils with more opportunities for independent thinking and learning. Greater attention to the analysis of results of standardised tests is recommended to assist in improving overall achievement levels.
The teachers are to be commended for their attention to the assessment of mathematical achievement. Copies are regularly and carefully corrected. All class teachers maintain individual pupil records of mastery of the strands and strands units. They observe the work in the classroom vigilantly and intervene when necessary to provide support. Teacher-designed tasks and regular tests are a feature of the good practice in the school. Standardised tests are administered annually and the results of these are used to determine banding arrangements and to provide further learning support.
4.3 Quality of support for pupils in Mathematics
Through the banding system, all mainstream pupils receive appropriate levels of support for learning in Mathematics. Pupils with special educational needs and pupils who score below the tenth percentile in standardised tests are supported through special classes or additional mathematical sessions with the learning-support teacher. Individual education plans (IEPs) are prepared for these pupils in collaboration with class teachers, principal and parents, and outside agencies are consulted where appropriate. The teachers use concrete materials effectively to enable pupils to use Mathematics in everyday situations. Basic number operations are taught and these are applied through the various strands in situations familiar to the pupils concerned. Parents of pupils throughout the school are encouraged to relate mathematics learning to real life by finding ‘maths in the home’ and ‘maths in the car’. The use of games adds enjoyment and fun to the learning so that very positive attitudes to mathematics are apparent. Pupils enthusiastically discuss and demonstrate their ability to use basic number operations, measures and shape and space.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Within the school there is strong leadership, effective curriculum co-ordination and a committed staff, all of whom contribute significantly to the quality of the pupils’ learning experiences
· Effective whole-school planning processes are in place
· The quality of teaching is consistently good throughout the school
· The school’s achievements in Environmental Awareness and Care are laudable
· The teachers are to be praised for addressing the needs of all ability groups in the teaching of Mathematics
· The provision of extensive learning resources, opportunities for professional development and mutual support are praiseworthy features of this school.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that further emphasis be placed on developing the pupils’ independence in working scientifically and in undertaking mathematical problems
· It is advised that more in-depth analysis of standardised test results be undertaken in Mathematics
· The sharing of good practice regarding assessment for learning in Science is recommended
· Greater linkage between the number strands and other strands of the mathematics curriculum is required.
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.