Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation
Science and Mathematics 2007
Name of School:
St Colman’s N.S. Corofin, Cummer,
Tuam, Co. Galway
Roll Number: 19276W
Date of inspection: 16 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 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 St. Colman’s N.S.. 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St. Colman’s National School is located near Corofin, about twenty-five kilometres to the north-east of Galway city. The school has an administrative principal, seven teachers of mainstream classes, a learning-support teacher and a resource teacher. The current enrolment is 208. The school employs a secretary and a caretaker, both on a part-time basis.
The school building has just been extended and refurbished. The board of management and the wider school community are to be congratulated on the excellent facilities that the school now offers to the pupils. There are seven mainstream classrooms, a large sports hall, two separate rooms for the use of learning-support and resource teachers, a staff room, and offices for the principal and secretary.
Although the school does not have a parents’ association, there is evidence of effective communication and of ongoing parental participation in the life of the school. The board of management invites parents to attend an annual general meeting, at which the school calendar, accounts and other issues are discussed. Parents are involved in committees with responsibility for particular tasks such as the development of the recreation area or the official opening of the school. The school issues a newsletter several times a year to inform parents of various school events. Parents provide valuable assistance with the school’s extra-curricular programme.
The school has invested in a range of appropriate materials and equipment for the teaching of Science. These resources are managed efficiently and used effectively to provide active, hands-on learning opportunities for pupils in all classes. An inventory of equipment is included in the school plan. The school has sufficient resources to provide practical activities in each strand of the Mathematics curriculum. There is a good supply of age-appropriate mathematical equipment in each classroom. Although the primary focus of the learning-support and resource provision is literacy, mathematical resources are available in these rooms also, including a selection of manipulatives, visual aids and computer software.
The school grounds and the wider local environment are valuable resources for the teaching of Science. Pupils in many classes are taken on seasonal nature walks in the immediate locality, as well as regular trips to peatland, woodland and aquatic habitats further afield. The provision of bird feeders at the windows of some classrooms provides pupils with further learning opportunities. The school grounds have not yet been developed as a resource for the teaching of Science. There are plans, however, to develop a school garden and to participate in Galway County Council’s Green Schools programme in the coming year. These developments would enhance the school’s provision for Science and it is recommended that the plans be implemented. The planting of native trees in the school grounds would provide another important resource for the teaching and learning of Science. It is recommended that the development and use of the school grounds and other local habitats be co-ordinated through the whole-school planning process to ensure continuity and progression in the pupils’ learning about plants and animals as they move from class to class.
The school’s most important resource is the commitment, experience and skill of the teachers. The quality of teaching is high throughout the school and there are some examples of excellent practice. The school participates in a wide range of Science-related projects, including Fionn, Discover Primary Science and the K’nex Challenge. Such projects support curriculum implementation and also provide valuable professional-development opportunities for the teachers involved. It is recommended that Science exhibitions be organised in the school to give pupils and teachers the opportunity to learn about work that is done in other classrooms.
Four of the teachers have posts of responsibility in addition to their class-teaching duties. These post-holders, along with the principal, comprise the in-school management team. The principal teacher is responsible for curriculum leadership in Mathematics. Science is not included in the responsibilities of any post-holder at present. 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 also that the responsibilities attached to the posts be reviewed regularly in order to ensure that they include areas that are currently in need of development. 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.
At the time of the evaluation there are 34 pupils in a single senior-infants classroom while there are only 18 pupils in one of the other rooms. It is recommended that the school “ensure that there is an equitable distribution of pupils in mainstream classes and that the differential between the largest and smallest classes is kept to a minimum” (DES Circular 20/2007). The school is reminded especially of the importance of avoiding large numbers in infant classes.
3.1 Whole-school planning
The school is to be commended for seeking to ensure that whole-school plans and policies are as practical and as user-friendly as possible. The school plan for Science presents the broad aims and objectives of the school programme, a description of the teaching approaches to be used and a statement regarding safety in Science lessons. The objectives of the Primary School Curriculum are used as the starting point for the school’s Science programme. This is to be commended. The objectives to be achieved in each of the curriculum’s content strands are set out for each class level.
It is recommended that the Science plan be revised to include details of how the skills strands, i.e Working Scientifically and Designing and Making, will be developed at each class level. The need for an increased emphasis on these areas is evident from classroom observation and from the pupils’ performance on assessment tasks. It is recommended that the plan also include a statement of what the pupils at each class level are expected to learn through activities in the school grounds and other local habitats.
All of the teachers have been involved in the development and review of a broad, user-friendly, whole-school plan for Mathematics. The plan makes reference to the resources and teaching methodologies to be used, the development of mathematical language, the learning of tables, homework, assessment approaches, use of the calculator, skills development and differentiation. The principal supports and monitors the implementation of the plan through regular classroom visits and through the teachers’ monthly progress records. The implementation of the plan is also discussed at staff meetings. It is recommended that all teachers ensure that their practice is in accordance with the policies contained in the school plan.
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.
3.2 Classroom planning
Each teacher prepares a long-term scheme of work as well as more detailed fortnightly schemes. It is evident from the long-term schemes that broad and balanced programmes are implemented in most curricular areas. Although there are some examples of excellent short-term planning, the quality varies from class to class. There are a number of commercially produced planning diaries in use throughout the school. Some of these do not provide adequate space for effective planning and recording in all curricular areas.
Some teachers prepare fortnightly schemes that include clear statements of intended learning outcomes as well as details of how lessons are to be adapted for the different levels of ability within the class. It is recommended that all teachers include these elements in their short-term planning. Each teacher keeps a monthly record of work completed (cuntas míosúil). The most useful of these provide clear statements of the learning outcomes that have been achieved by the pupils. It is recommended that all teachers include this information in their cuntais mhíosúla.
4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science
There are many examples of very good practice in the teaching of Science. The effective use of charts and other displays in most classrooms makes it easier for the pupils to understand and remember what is taught. Teachers deserve great credit for the time that they devote to this and other aspects of the classroom environment. It is recommended that teachers place a greater emphasis on identifying the pupils’ prior knowledge before introducing new concepts. Effective approaches to eliciting pupils’ existing ideas include the completion of annotated drawings or concept maps by the pupils. Throughout the school, there is evidence of good linkage and integration in the teaching of scientific concepts.
The teachers are to be commended for providing regular hands-on learning activities. There are very good opportunities for pupils to develop communicative and collaborative skills through working together in pairs and small groups. In several classrooms, there is excellent development of Science vocabulary. Cards and charts are used to introduce new words during the lesson and are used subsequently to support the pupils’ use of the new vocabulary. It is evident from classroom observation that teachers generally have a satisfactory knowledge of scientific concepts. It is recommended that teachers place a greater emphasis on the exploring and planning stages of the Designing and Making process. The school is referred to Primary School Curriculum: Science - Teacher Guidelines (pages 133-139).
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. It is clear from the pupils’ responses that there are areas of strength and areas of weakness within each of the curriculum’s four content strands. In the strand Living Things, for example, most of the pupils had achieved the objective tested in Myself but fewer than half of the pupils had achieved the objective tested in Plants and Animals. In the other strands, the units in which most pupils had mastered the relevant objectives are Myself, Heat, Properties and Characteristics of Materials and Caring for the Environment.
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. Fewer than half of the pupils tested in the school demonstrated mastery of the relevant objectives for their class level. It is recommended that the teachers devise and implement a whole-school approach to the development of the pupils’ procedural skills and understanding. 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).
There is no evidence of any significant difference between boys and girls in terms of Science achievement.
4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics
Mathematics is generally very well taught in this school. Each teacher provides either a designated display area for Mathematics charts or a ‘Maths corner’ with opportunities for pupils to explore mathematical equipment and materials. Mathematics lessons are generally well structured and well paced. There is effective use of concrete materials. Most teachers provide regular opportunities for pupils to work in pairs and small groups. In the infant classes, there is an appropriate emphasis on early mathematical activities and skilful use of age-appropriate approaches.
The school plan places a commendable emphasis on the development of the pupils’ language through all mathematical activities. Pupils hear mathematical vocabulary used consistently by all teachers throughout the school. It is evident that this is a factor in the development of the pupils’ own ability to use mathematical language appropriately. There is effective development of calculator skills in the senior classes. This is currently done on a modular basis. Pupils would benefit from more frequent use of calculators in all of the strands, especially in the area of problem solving. It is recommended that the school make greater use of its immediate environment as a resource for the teaching of Mathematics. The development and use of Mathematics trails would be particularly beneficial for pupils. The school is referred to Primary School Curriculum: Mathematics - Teacher Guidelines (pages 47-51).
Pupils’ mathematical skills are generally well developed. Pupils engage in estimation and problem solving on a regular basis. Common approaches to problem solving have been agreed by the staff and are implemented consistently. There is a commendable focus, in some classes, on the development of mental arithmetic and an appropriate emphasis on the learning of number facts at all class levels. The results of a consistent whole-school approach in this area are evident in the very good performance of the senior pupils. It is reported that the use of entrance examinations by some local post-primary schools is an obstacle to the effective implementation of the Mathematics curriculum in the senior classes.
Some pupils’ achievement in Mathematics is well above the norm for their age group. It is recommended that class programmes be designed with a view to ensuring that they are sufficiently stimulating and challenging for more able pupils.
4.3 Quality of support for pupils in Mathematics
Mainstream teachers generally differentiate their programmes appropriately for pupils with learning difficulties in Mathematics. A small number of pupils receive supplementary tuition in this area. An individual learning programme is prepared for each of these pupils. The programmes are based on the results of assessments and are reviewed on a regular basis. The support teacher, class teacher, principal, parents and special-needs assistant (SNA) are all involved in this process. The learning-support and resource teachers cultivate a positive atmosphere in their rooms and there is an appropriate emphasis on social and personal development in the learning programmes. These teachers also complete short-term plans, maintain progress records and keep samples of pupils’ work. Lessons are well structured and varied. There is effective use of resources such as mathematical games, manipulatives and computer software. Pupils are generally withdrawn from the mainstream class for supplementary teaching. It is recommended that support be provided in mainstream classes as an alternative to withdrawal.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
We acknowledge receipt of the contents of the WSE. The Board wishes to record its agreement with all that is positive in the report and the school will continue to provide an excellent education for its students.
Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection