An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Scoil Naomh Mhuire,
Clogheen Central National School,
Contae Thiobraid Árann
Uimhir rolla: 19540 N
Date of inspection: 4 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
An evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in Clogheen 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
This school occupies a highly attractive, spacious site in the outskirts of Clogheen. Built in 1980, the school has five classrooms and the decorative order is good. It serves a well-established rural population and caters for a total of eighty-three boys and girls from infants to sixth class. The grounds are tastefully laid out and maintained in a manner that is likely to contribute significantly to the development of the children’s aesthetic sense 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. The staff consists of principal and three mainstream teachers, together with two learning support/resource teachers, one of whom is full time and the other shared with another school. Also, there is one special needs assistant and a diligent part-time secretary, and their contribution is appreciated. The principal teaches two classes and, although this restricts the time available to her for administrative issues during the school day, she succeeds admirably in addressing the various demands that arise on an ongoing basis. The children in general are alert and responsive, they are provided with a well-balanced curriculum within a calm, secure environment and across the curriculum their self-esteem is systematically nurtured by an enthusiastic and caring staff that offers constant challenge at an appropriate level. Close links have been established with parents and they are made feel welcome to visit and consult with teachers on an informal basis at times of mutual convenience; in addition, there is an annual consultation meeting where individual children’s progress is discussed. Also, parents prove generous in the provision of material support and systematically engage in fundraising activities that enable the school add to its material resources.
2.1 Resources for Science
Overall the school is well resourced and the principal, science coordinator and staff add to the collections of teaching materials and equipment on a systematic 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 torso and teeth, stethoscopes, bug viewers, magnets, lenses, microscopes, periscopes and magnifying glasses, measuring cylinders, a selection of rocks, compasses batteries and ancillary connections. In addition, there are various videocassettes, DVDs, illustrative charts, texts and plastic creatures that are based on human and environmental themes. A notable inclusion is the digital camera which is used to impressive effect in recording learning activities, and discussion with the children testifies to its clear success in increasing motivational levels throughout the school. Appropriately, equipment and materials are stored in a central location and teachers draw from this as the need arises.
The staff identifies the rich immediate environment as a valuable resource for learning about Living Things and Environment, and nature walks with their challenge to observe natural phenomena are a common feature of the learning in all classrooms. The staff exhibits a commendable interest in the systematic development of children’s awareness and understanding of environment, and it is pleasing to note that as part of the Leader programme on community gardens an uncultivated area is to be set aside and developed as part of an initiative that will further develop pupils’ knowledge and skills in a practical manner. It is likely that an area such as this will constitute a valuable resource in promoting children’s awareness of natural phenomena and will sharpen their perception of natural cycles.
Given the fact that a school’s most valuable resource is its human resource, it is appropriate that staff is facilitated in taking advantage of opportunities for in-career development. Primary Curriculum Support Programme and School Development Programme personnel have made a valuable and appreciated contribution to the school’s capacity to deliver the Science programme, but apart from these initiatives staff engagement in in-career courses has been limited. This is unfortunate and militates against the hoped for systematic development of science in the school. It is recommended that staff continues in its efforts to access useful training in Science and that the board of management encourages them in this worthy enterprise.
2.2 Resources for Mathematics
In collaboration with the principal and staff, the school’s co-ordinator for Mathematics has undertaken praiseworthy work in relation to the provision of materials and in planning for this curricular area. The staff work collegially and are committed to providing a quality service that meets the various learning needs of their pupils. A wide range of high quality mathematical equipment together with relevant illustrative materials is provided throughout the school to support the effective teaching and learning of Mathematics. A hundred square and hopscotch area have been added in the yard and this, along with the pupils’ play area in general, is skilfully utilised to reinforce their learning in Mathematics. An inventory of equipment and resources has been completed, resources are stored centrally and are acquired by staff as necessary. A mathematics-rich environment is identified in each classroom with the effective creation of mathematical areas and with the prominent display of commercial posters and teacher-devised charts. Information and Communication Technology and the augmenting of current resources have been given priority for future development.
Parents are proud of their school and the generous support that they give to staff and pupils is most laudable. A paired mathematics initiative, generously supported by the parents’ association is to be undertaken following the Halloween break. Parents will contribute to this activity in playing games with their children at home and in donating games to the school.
Staff members regularly participate in professional development courses in improving their skills in the teaching of Mathematics. In addition, the cuiditheoir services provided by the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) in addition to support received from School Development Planning (SDP) have been utilised to a considerable degree in the ongoing development of Mathematics in the school.
The staff has prepared a useful school plan that includes its Science policy and its strategy for the teaching of Science throughout the school. Revised in recent weeks, it has at its core a commendable determination to promote a broad and well-balanced curriculum. There are statements on the development of the cognitive, emotional and spiritual dimensions and the utilisation of guided discovery methods is given due prominence, as is the study of the immediate environment. Working in conjunction with School Development Programme personnel, the school has devised a detailed programme for each class in which various topics are specified, together with the strands and strand units areas in which they are located. Practical possibilities for linkage and integration with other areas of the curriculum are also indicated therein. A two-year cycle is followed in charting planned activity and this facilitates the promotion of desirable levels of continuity and progression while also helping to avoid unnecessary repetition. This, and the high level of collaboration that underpins it, serves as an example of good practice and merits commendation.
Conscious of the fact that assessment is an integral component of the planning progress, staff has devised procedures for the regular recording of progress and these take the form of a monthly progress record that specifies areas covered in Science. Whereas this proves useful in promoting best practice, it is desirable that a greater measure of detail be provided to include, for example, skills mastered so that teachers will be facilitated in undertaking a more searching analysis of progress achieved.
A detailed whole-school plan for Mathematics was devised collaboratively, and all members of staff were involved in this process. The plan was ratified by the board of management and was reviewed in June 2007. The plan outlines key methodologies and identifies the skills for pupils to acquire, including problem-solving strategies. The curriculum objectives at each class level are identified as the necessary starting points for teachers’ individual planning. Linkage and integration also feature and mathematical objectives are taught thematically as appropriate. The plan also emphasises the use of mathematical language at each class level. Opportunities to verbalise and to use manipulatives are clearly emphasised in the promotion of understanding of numeric activities before recording. The schools’ assessment strategies are clearly outlined and a variety of tests are identified, including teacher-devised tests, criterion referenced tests, and standardised tests. The plan makes successful provision for differentiated approaches that incorporate children experiencing difficulty in this curricular area and those who have a considerable aptitude for Mathematics and in need of a greater challenge. The plan creditably identifies the importance of utilising assessment data to inform teaching and learning activities. At staff meetings the monthly progress records are used effectively as a monitoring tool for school plan implementation.
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.
The quality of classroom planning for Science is good and teachers’ lesson notes suggest that a sincere effort is being made by all members of staff to implement the school plan in a purposeful way. Teachers prepare long and short-term schemes of work that are rooted in Primary School Curriculum (1999). Textbooks are used as an aid to planning but, appropriately, only in a limited and measured way, and in their regular production of worksheets and illustrative materials the staff makes useful provision for increasing challenge. As part of the process, due regard is had for the requirements of children with different needs. While acknowledging that the schemes of work provide only a limited indication of the depth of preparation, it is recommended that a more detailed specification of learning objectives in the short-term plans would considerably enhance teacher reflection on how the programme for the following days might be most successfully delivered. Ultimately, this would lead to a more systematic promotion of higher standards in the skills as well as knowledge area.
The level and quality of teachers’ planning impacts positively on the breadth of curricular provision in Mathematics. To this end they prepare long-term and short-term schemes of work together with useful support documentation. Teachers plan their lessons wisely, making sure that there is good variety in activities that meets pupils’ varying levels of understanding. Planning documents refer to key concepts such as methodologies, mathematical language, skill development, integration, differentiation and assessment. Individual planning documents and the monthly progress record are presented in a commercially produced yearly planner. The plans are based on the curriculum strands, and the learning goals are clearly outlined in terms of the skills and concepts to be developed. Some teachers maintain records of pupils’ progress and it is recommended that this practice be extended throughout the school. Copies of the whole-school plan and of individual learning programmes as appropriate are suitably included in teachers’ planning folders. Staff are advised to ensure that sufficient information is documented in the monthly progress records to facilitate the regular monitoring of the mathematical programme.
The school is achieving a high level of success in its determination to provide a broad and balanced Science programme. Each teacher promotes a positive learning atmosphere, lessons are well paced and the instruction is pitched at a level that has due regard for challenge and pupil interest. At the outset of lessons the objectives are set out clearly and throughout the lessons there is an impressive level of communication as the teacher uses pupils’ contributions in a skilful manner to enhance their understanding of concepts. A central element of the learning at each level is a praiseworthy emphasis on hands-on activity by mixed ability groups that is characterised by high levels of pupil collaboration and enthusiasm. A wide range of resources is used effectively and imaginative use is made of the available space and display areas to create a stimulating learning environment.
As part of this evaluation, either one or two sets of tasks were administered in all four 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 impressive and reflect very creditably on the work of the school. This is reflected in pupils’ conceptual understanding reaching a highly commendable standard and their procedural knowledge reaching a level that virtually is as high.
When conceptual knowledge is examined in detail it is seen that most pupils achieved mastery of the concepts tested in the strands Living Things and Energy and Forces; and in Materials almost as many pupils reached mastery level. Closer examination of the scoring reveals that in respect of Myself and Plants and Animals, which constitute the strand units of Living Things, every child achieved mastery; and in respect of Energy and Forces most pupils reached mastery level, with only the strand units Light (in infants) and Sound (in junior class) indicating scope for development. When the strand units of Materials are scrutinised it is evidenced that a substantial majority of pupils are seen to be achieving at an impressive level in respect of Properties and Characteristics of Materials and only in the subsection Materials and Change at senior level is there scope for development.
The second set of tasks focused on pupils’ procedural knowledge in junior, middle and senior classes. A majority of the junior pupils displayed mastery of the knowledge required by these tasks, and a still higher proportion achieved mastery in the senior class; in the middle classes every pupil achieved mastery level. This set of results is praiseworthy and gives eloquent testimony to a determination on the part of staff to enable all children to reach their potential.
It follows that plans for further development both in the procedural area, and indeed in the conceptual area too, should build on these successes and should be rooted in a careful analysis of the difficulties experienced by that small proportion of pupils who are experiencing a measure of difficulty in accommodating to the challenges presented by the strand units of the Science programme.
The quality of teaching and learning in the curriculum was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching, engaging with the pupils and reviewing samples of work in each of the classrooms. The teachers cope commendably with the organisational demands of having multi-class groupings. Impressive examples of differentiated teaching and integrated learning processes are features of classroom practice. Teachers give clear explanation to pupils, they present content clearly and provide suitable and well-structured learning activities. A judicious blend of whole-class teaching together with cooperative learning activities in groups is a praiseworthy feature. The overall quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is very good. Regular engagement in mental mathematical activities is a characteristic in all classes and target boards and loop games are utilised very effectively. The use of concrete material is widespread and purposeful and is recognised by staff as a productive means of developing the pupils’ understanding of mathematical concepts. Due emphasis is placed on linking the work in progress to the pupils’ own experiences and to real life practical situations. Particularly commendable is the regular use of teacher-designed hands-on games to revise areas taught and to enable pupils derive pleasure from mathematical activity. The pupils’ written work is well presented, regularly monitored and marked by the teachers. Commendably, the staff engages the pupils in regular discussion to promote their understanding of concepts, and the consistent development of estimation and problem solving strategies is a noteworthy feature of all mathematical activity. An examination of mathematical scores attained in standardized tests demonstrates that achievement levels are impressive. Staff might usefully consider the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in tracking the achievement of pupils.
The school has documented detailed policies on the admission, enrolment and participation of pupils with special educational needs in the school plan. These are informative and are in accordance with the schools’ caring ethos. The staged approach to assessment, identification and programme implementation is utilised appropriately. The special education team in the school consists of two learning support/resource teachers, one of whom is shared with Ballylooby NS. Their commendable work proceeds in collaboration and in consultation with the class teachers. Imaginative and focussed programmes of work that incorporate the use of ICT are prepared for individual children in accordance with deliberations and ongoing assessments. Individual education plans are prepared on the basis of a careful diagnosis of needs and these are characterised by a measured degree of detail and relevance. Plans include specific targets, a clear timeframe for review is identified and this strategy is undertaken in collaboration with class teachers and parents. Support is provided on a withdrawal basis, either individually or in small groups, and is effectively complemented with in-class support. The school employs one special needs assistant and she makes an important contribution to pupil learning under the careful guidance of the class teacher. Overall, pupils are making steady progress in accordance with their competencies and abilities. In accordance with the teachers’ ongoing commitment to the development of progressive and professional practice, the school’s early intervention strategy is to be expanded to include senior infants. Within the context of the evolving school plan, consideration could usefully be given to devising an agreed approach to maintaining pupil assessment records. As a general developmental point, it is suggested that any review of the learning support/resource programme should focus on determining an agreed and appropriate time for pupil testing. This would serve to ensure that those in need of supplementary teaching would be enabled avail of the maximum allocation of time that can be provided.
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.