An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
St Fintan’s National School
Sutton, Dublin 13
Uimhir rolla: 19549I
Date of inspection: 18 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
An evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in St Fintan’s 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St Fintan’s NS is located in North Dublin on the Howth headland. The school was opened on Carrickbrack Road, Sutton in 1982 and celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2007. The school has a current enrolment of 389 pupils. The school is in close proximity to many natural wildlife habitats and an attractive mural depicting the area adorns the side wall of the general purpose room. The school community has been involved in the Green Schools Programme where it makes environmental issues an intrinsic part of school life. The many achievements by the school are displayed with pride on the corridors. The school received first prize recently in the ‘Cleaner awards’ given by An Taisce and Fingal County Council. A transport survey was conducted during the evaluation and 140 pupils walk, cycle or come by scooter to school. There are parking bays provided for such cyclists. This is commendable practice. Pupils are actively involved in activities, both in-school and after-school, such as basketball, hockey, gymnastics, Irish dancing, athletics, guitar, school choir, cricket and rugby. The school in association with Binn Eadair GAA club arranges GAA training for pupils from senior infants to sixth class over an eight week period during the course of the year.
The school has an administrative principal, fifteen class teachers, two of whom job share, two resource teachers, two learning support teachers who also job share and one part-time language support teacher. The school staff also includes four full-time special needs assistants, a committed secretary and a dedicated caretaker. Staff members are professional, happy and energetic. The industrious information and communications technology (ICT) co-ordinator serves as the liaison for the Hermes ICT project. All of the special duties post holders (who make up the in-school management team in the school with the deputy principal and the assistant principal) carry out their duties in a diligent manner. This contributes greatly to a quality education for the pupils. The highly efficient principal provides vibrant, purposeful leadership. He motivates, empowers and appreciates all the staff’s endeavours. His enthusiastic deputy and assistant principals provide undivided support to him and all the staff.
The principal cultivates a collegial atmosphere among all the partners in education. The school is an integral part of the parish and works in partnership with the church, the parents and the local community. The ethos of the school is exemplified in the commendable quality of the relationships exhibited in the school. It is an inclusive, inviting environment. The board of management has been active recently in its maintenance programme. This included the installation of a new heating and intercom system and carrying out of repairs to the roof. Its members undertake their responsibilities very effectively.
Parental interest in pupils’ education in St Fintan’s NS is high and a real sense of open communication and active participation was evident in the many examples noted during the evaluation. A parents’ notice board is located at the front entrance to the school and the parents’ association circulates a monthly newsletter. Help is given very generously by parents who volunteer for library work, who assist with yard duty, who help with sports and other activities. Parents have been involved in the development of policies such as healthy eating, video usage and in the school uniform policy. They have actively supported the school in the Green Flag project.
2.1 Resources for Science
A wide array of resources is used very effectively to enrich the teaching and learning opportunities in Science in the school. The staff is complimented in the senior end where the majority of teachers do not use a textbook in the teaching of the Science. They use resources from Discover Primary Science, the curriculum documents and other available materials very creatively in their teaching and this translates into interesting and challenging lessons. All of the staff are using materials from the Discover Primary Science pack with great success. The school is resourced with ICT and staff members access resources and training through the Hermes project. However, it is recommended that the teachers use ICT more frequently in the teaching of Science where possible. The use of the digital camera, the use of a data projector and the use of software more regularly would enhance teaching and learning. The school should complement the ICT resources available through the Hermes project and this will give the school independent access to other sites and materials currently unavailable to the staff. Resources for Science are well-organised, accessible and managed by a staff member who has assumed responsibility for Science. His pupils assist him in replenishing materials in the various boxes for use in classes. The teachers give reflective feedback on the success or otherwise of the experiment undertaken. The school is aiming to have all the strand units adequately resourced over time to cater for thirty pupils. It is recommended that the school invests in resources for the strand units of Heat and Light. The staff is using the resources available appropriately to meet the learning needs of the pupils.
The Green Schools Project takes environmental issues from the curriculum and applies them to the day-to-day running of the school. The theme of Litter and Waste has been explored and the theme of Energy is being prioritised this year. The committee which comprises students, parents and teachers sets achievable targets with proposed completion dates that show real success. Curriculum materials are provided that give ideas how to integrate environmental issues into lessons. The school community facilitates the collection of used cartridges, ringos, twisters and batteries in a central bank area of the school. An attractive Green Schools notice board is located in a central area in the school which gives updates on events and highlights achievements in the project. One of the in-school management team assumes responsibility for this important initiative. The Sutton parish newsletter is also used to inform parishioners of the recycling efforts of the school and upcoming events. The Green code is a symbol of the school’s commitment to environmental good habits. The Litter and Waste code in the school is “If you want St. Fintan’s green, you better keep it clean”. The Energy code is “C’mon all you lads and lasses, try to stop those greenhouse gases”. The local seashore, the school grounds and the local environment are all used judiciously in the teaching of Science.
2.2 Resources for Mathematics
The school has an extensive range of mathematics resources. These resources have been well chosen, being both stimulating and interactive. In particular, the school has compiled a large number of concrete resources which provide ‘hands-on’ activities for pupils during mathematics lessons. Such resource usage is very effective for the introduction, development and consolidation of particular mathematical concepts. There is a very good balance between teacher resources and pupil resources, with appropriate provision for all strands of the curriculum. Typically, resources are stored in the classroom and are shared among teachers of the same class levels. This practice runs very smoothly and effectively. It is recommended that the school compiles an inventory of the location and nature of these resources.
All classrooms have been appropriately developed as maths-rich environments. Teacher-designed and commercially designed posters and charts serve to create a stimulating mathematical environment. Many classrooms also display samples of the pupils’ mathematical work. The school environment itself is also used successfully as a resource for the teaching of Mathematics. Teachers have designed a number of maths trails in a very creative and stimulating manner. Such work is highly commended as it connects mathematical principles and concepts with the immediate environment of the pupil. The school makes good use of ICT in the teaching of Mathematics. Teachers’ involvement in the Hermes ICT project is specifically commended. Through this project, teachers can select and pick on-line resources to illustrate and develop particular mathematical concepts. The school has a good selection of software for Mathematics. The school has a notice board devoted to displaying some of the learning activities and practices undertaken as part of ‘Maths Week’. Such practice is highly commended as it celebrates Mathematics and establishes it as a strong characteristic of the school culture. Such creative endeavours could be further enhanced by the more widespread use of mathematical labelling throughout the school.
The school policy on Science is very well formulated incorporating a laudable vision and list of aims for the teaching of science. The vision is ambitious and reflective. It makes judicious use of the local natural environment which exemplifies the planning and teaching of Science in St Fintan’s NS. It outlines clearly the various initiatives in Science being undertaken by the school. Pupils participate in National Tree Week, Energy Awareness Week and in the local Heritage Day. Senior pupils exhibit at the “Young Scientist Award” in the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in January and will continue to do so in 2008. The Science Bus has visited the school in the past and is scheduled to visit the school once again. The school involves itself in the ‘Seal Release Programme’ and avails of input from a well known environmentalist. Due to its proximity to Howth village, the school engages in some of the activities organised by the Marine Institute. Plans are in place to develop suitable science trails to the local Shielmartin Hill and the Hill of Howth. The Science policy was formulated by the school staff in collaboration with a Cuiditheoir from the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP). It places significant emphasis on the development of scientific skills and methodologies. Other related planning documents such as the healthy lunch policy, the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) policy, the environment policy all integrate very well with the policy in Science. The quality of whole-school planning is very good.
3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics
The school staff and board of management have worked in a collegial manner to produce a comprehensive and wide-ranging school policy for Mathematics. In so doing, the services of a cuiditheoir from the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) and an advisor from the School Development Planning Support (SDPS) have been availed of to advise them in relation to best practice. The plan makes provision for a number of aspects of the teaching of Mathematics. For example, it details the vision, aims, assessment strategies, approaches to staff development, use of resources and homework guidelines to be adopted on a school-wide basis. In particular, it provides a very good outline for the use of mathematical language, for the development of oral mathematics and for the use of pupils’ ideas as starting points for lesson content and for differentiation approaches. The plan has been ratified by the board of management and makes appropriate provision for regular review. In reviewing the plan further, it is recommended that more definitive reference be made to the role of the Mathematics co-ordinator and to linkage and integration. Furthermore, more specific reference could also be made to specific strand units and the possibilities for linkage and integration across strand units and other curricular areas.
Confirmation was provided that, in compliance with Department of Education and Science Primary Circular 006/2006, the board of management has formally adopted the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). Confirmation has also been 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 the 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.
All teachers have comprehensive planning which guides their work and contributes to successful learning. The teachers plan for a range of active teaching methodologies such as pair work, group work, circle work and are focussing this year in particular on group work and investigative work. A wide range of assessment modes is used to evaluate pupils’ achievement and progress. The use of a concept map as an assessment method is noteworthy. All teachers plan according to the content objectives and plan effectively for resources, approaches, assessment and skill development. Teachers’ long-term plans make considerable reference to integration opportunities. The monthly reports are detailed and show that an interesting and varied curriculum is being delivered appropriately. Teachers’ classrooms are praiseworthy. Many teacher-designed posters reflect the quality of work being covered. Photographic displays provide further evidence of the work being undertaken in this subject. The quality of the planning and preparation in science is commendable.
All teachers prepare long-term and short-term plans to guide the implementation of the mathematics curriculum. Long-term plans make very good provision for the progressive and continuous development of lesson content in accordance with the curriculum. These make very good provision for integration, assessment, mental arithmetic and differentiation. Short-term plans make a clear and progressive outline of the content to be covered. These plans include activities to involve pupils and to stimulate their interest in the concepts being covered. In some cases, teachers make reference to differentiation practices. It is recommended that all teachers’ planning make a more definitive reference to differentiation strategies and approaches. At the end of each month, teachers submit a detailed monthly report on the lesson content covered in Mathematics. Teachers are commended on the wide range of assessment strategies in place and for the careful manner in which they monitor the progress of their pupils. Such monitoring also involves the maintenance of regular and continuous records of pupil progress. The school is also commended for its insightful and formative use of standardised and diagnostic tests. These tests inform teaching and learning.
The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection process was of a very high standard. The pupils revealed interest and curiosity in science lessons and were stimulated to take an active part in them as they were highly structured, well-paced and developed appropriately. The teachers’ communications skills were highly effective as the teachers made skilful use of questioning, explanations and instructions during the lessons. The teachers use an array of methodologies very effectively in their teaching. Scientific skills are developed effectively which include working scientifically and designing and making. Very good attention is given to the teaching of the correct scientific language to pupils. The pupils’ concepts and knowledge are developed through activity, experimentation and investigation. Younger pupils learn through structured and unstructured play situations. The teachers are to be commended on the very good classroom management strategies employed during the course of lessons. Records of pupils’ work are carefully maintained using concept maps, drawings and worksheets. The conclusion of lessons and the records kept by pupils in the senior end in their journals deserves merit. Many notable science displays adorn the corridors and classrooms such as a sound table, electricity project and a water display. The strand of construction in Visual Arts is appropriately integrated with Science as was evident during the evaluation. The teachers challenge pupils through providing a differentiated and varied curriculum in Science. They give quality learning opportunities that are engaging, enriching and enjoyable.
As part of this evaluation, two sets of tasks were administered to the pupils in a number of classrooms. The first set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ conceptual knowledge. In the strand Living Things, the majority of the pupils assessed displayed mastery of the concepts tested in Human Life and in Plant and Animal Life. In Environmental Awareness and Care, the majority of the boys while fewer than half the girls demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested. In the strand of Materials, all of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the first section while all of the girls and almost all of the boys demonstrated mastery of the second section. In the strand of Energy and Forces, most of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the strand units Forces and Light where all the pupils demonstrated mastery of the strand units of Sound, Heat, Magnetism and Electricity. Overall pupils displayed competence in the area of conceptual knowledge.
The second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ procedural knowledge. Fewer than half of the pupils at the junior end of the school displayed mastery of the knowledge and skills required by the task while none of the pupils in the middle and senior classes displayed mastery of the knowledge and skills required by the task. In conclusion, these tasks required planning and preparation for investigation tasks rather than carrying out an investigation. On the evidence of the pupils’ responses to tasks, it is recommended that teachers in the middle and senior classes plan the experiments with pupils in advance of the investigation. Pupils will therefore be more actively involved in the planning and preparation of the materials and related procedures and should therefore be competent in planning for fair testing.
The quality of teaching and learning in Mathematics is very good. Pupils demonstrated strong subject competence at all class levels. Teachers approach the subject in an enthusiastic and structured manner which translates to effective and engaging lessons. Pupils revealed a keen interest and enthusiasm for mathematics lessons which was fostered in a number of ways. Teachers make very effective use of a variety of teaching methods with notable use being made of collaborative learning and group work. Pupils’ ideas are used effectively during lessons, with lesson content being creatively and successfully linked to the life experience and environment of the pupils. Lessons had very good pace and structure, with very apt use being made of activities which prompted the pupils to use mathematical language and to apply problem-solving skills. In particular, teachers made very timely, creative and effective use of concrete resources to develop and consolidate lesson content at all class levels. Pupils clearly enjoy the use of these ‘hands-on’ concrete resources. In a number of instances, teachers make use of ICT resources also. Such practice is commendable.
The lessons observed were of a very high standard, displaying creativity, insight and enthusiasm on the part of the teachers. In a large number of the lessons observed, pupils were encouraged to discuss the approaches they took to solving a mathematics problem. Similarly, most of these lessons encouraged pupils to create their own mathematical questions and to engage in estimation activities. Such praiseworthy practice serves to develop pupils’ problem-solving and reasoning skills. It is recommended that teachers consider wider opportunities for the use of such approaches. Teachers effectively and creatively integrate mathematics content with a number of other curricular areas and link content with other strand units in the mathematics curriculum. They make very good provision for the use of mathematical language and for mental arithmetic exercises. Lessons observed, provided the pupils with many opportunities to use the language associated with the concepts in question. These lessons also served to develop a wide number of the pupils’ mathematical skills, such as problem-solving, reasoning, integrating and connecting. The work of the pupils is carefully monitored. Pupils’ written work is of a high standard and is checked regularly.
The quality of support for pupils in Mathematics is of a very high standard. The school has formulated a highly commendable ‘Special Education Needs’ policy. The policy is very comprehensive and detailed setting out in a very clear fashion, the roles of all concerned with the provision of special education. Amongst other things, it also sets out success criteria, prevention strategies, selection criteria, planning approaches and a resource inventory. The policy was created by all the teaching staff, in consultation with a cuiditheoir from the PCSP and a facilitator from the SDPS. The plan has been ratified by the school’s board of management. It is recommended that in reviewing the policy, more specific reference is made to the role of the special needs assistants. The Special Education Support team (SET) comprises two resource teachers, a part-time language support teacher and two learning support teachers. This team approaches its work in a very professional, diligent and structured manner. Members of the team have engaged in a variety of professional development courses and such practice is commended. At the time of inspection, some members were preparing for a research project in St Patrick’s College involving the use of interactive whiteboards. Such endeavours are notable. Indeed, it is recommended that the school considers the possible inclusion of interactive whiteboard(s) as part of its resources for learning support.
Pupils are selected for support based on consultation with the class teacher and on the results of a series of tests. In this regard, the school uses the following tests: Basic Number Screening Test, Basic Number Diagnostic Test, Drumcondra Test and Error Analysis, Action Maths Termly Tests and Error Analysis, Sigma-T tests. Some of these tests are used on a school-wide basis and some are used for specific diagnostic purposes. In addition teacher-designed tests, work samples; parental feedback and teacher observation are used to provide a comprehensive picture of the needs of the pupil and to decide on their selection for learning support. In particular, the school is also highly commended for the manner in which it consults with parents to gain additional insights into ways and means for making the lesson content interesting and stimulating for the pupil. The SET team then collate this data into a ‘Diagnostic Window’ which serves to inform the creation of an Individual Pupil Learning Profile (IPLP). These profiles set out a variety of targets, success criteria, methods of approach and activities for use in particular teaching contexts. The SET team completes these pupil profiles in a detailed manner. It was noted that provision is made for some pupils in the senior classes whose standardised test scores would not typically merit their inclusion in learning support. It is recommended that the school closely examines the criteria used in these cases. Individual teacher planning is of a high standard with teachers writing both short and long-term plans to guide their work with their pupils.
The provision of learning support is undertaken using two approaches, withdrawal and in-class support. Both of these approaches are very effective. In-class support is undertaken in a subtle but highly effective manner. In those cases where pupils are withdrawn for support, the teaching and learning observed was stimulating and effective. In providing support to pupils, the SET team makes the lessons highly stimulating and interactive through the use of games, hands-on activities, discussion and the use of a wide variety of resources, most especially concrete resources. Teachers make very good use of ICT resources. It is recommended that the school reviews its selection of learning support software for Mathematics. Pupils are taught in a very warm, pleasant and affirming manner. These lessons have a clear structure and are guided by specific targets. Appropriate provision is made for mental arithmetic, problem solving and estimation activities. The success of this provision in meeting the learning targets as set out in the IPLPs is regularly reviewed on an informal level and twice yearly on a formal basis. In so doing, class teachers and parents are consulted.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The expertise, enthusiasm, professionalism and dedication of the staff is commendable and the curriculum leadership in the school is visionary, supportive and collegial.
· Interpersonal relations are particularly well developed and nurtured in the school where mutual respect is fostered and promoted actively.
· The board of management and the parents association are commended for their financial support for resources in science.
· The quality of written preparation and planning by the staff in Science is commendable.
· The standards of teaching and learning in Mathematics and Science is very good.
· Lessons in Mathematics and Science are stimulating and engaging, effectively motivating the pupils to take an active part and to enjoy the lesson content.
· Learning support in mathematics is delivered in a very professional, structured and systematic manner.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
We are very satisfied with the report and thank you for its positive nature in relation to all aspects of the school.