An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
St Francis’ Senior National School
Priorswood, Dublin 17
Uimhir rolla: 19668Q
Date of inspection: 3 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 12 March 2008
An evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning of
Science and Mathematics in St Francis’
Opened in 1980, St Francis’ Senior National School is located in Priorswood, Coolock, Dublin 17. The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and has an enrolment of 203 pupils. It participates in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) initiative as an Urban Band 1 school. The school has seven mainstream class teachers, one permanent teacher under the Educational Disadvantage Scheme (1990), an administrative principal, two learning support teachers and two resource teachers, three permanent and one temporary resource teachers for Travellers, a home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator, a secretary, a caretaker, three cleaners and eight part-time staff who provide a ‘Breakfast Club’ service. A hard working board of management is in place.
The school is highly commended for its very pro-active approach to involving the local community in the life of the school. To this end, the school is involved in a wide range of activities, projects and programmes such as ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘The After-School Club’, ‘Northside Partnership’, ‘Cór Fhéile na Scoileanna’, after-school ‘Drama and Art Therapy Classes’ and ‘The Dublin 17 Project’. In addition, the school is very closely involved with other community services and initiatives. It liaises closely with Darndale Health Centre, Dublin Bus, Dublin City University, Coolock Artane Credit Union, local football clubs, the Capuchin Fathers, and the Challenger Programme. This extensive selection of activities, programmes and initiatives serves to empower and promote parental interest and involvement in the education of the child. It is also designed to maximise pupils’ interest in their work at school. The school staff is highly commended for the interest and energy they devote to such an end. In particular, their involvement in the ‘Homework Club’ is specifically commended. Parents are regularly informed of school activities. The school makes very effective use of a school welcome pack and information memos to keep parents apprised of their role in their child’s education. Parents have undertaken many laudable school projects with very good success, such as the painting of rooms, the establishment of the Breakfast Club and the foundation of the School Savings Scheme. It is recommended that the school re-establishes a parents’ association.
The attendance of the vast majority of pupils in St Francis’ Senior National School is very good. However, a very small cohort of pupils has poor attendance records. Cognisant of the need to encourage and promote pupil attendance, the school has developed a number of attendance strategies and initiatives. In conjunction with St Francis’ Junior School, which shares the same campus, the school makes effective use of an ‘Attendance Monitor’. It also issues certificates and runs competitions to promote pupil attendance. Such initiatives and strategies are highly commended. It is recommended that the school formalises these approaches into an attendance policy.
The school has been active in selecting and purchasing a wide range of science resources. In so doing, it has utilised the services of a cuiditheoir from the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP). The science coordinator on the staff liaises closely with school staff to identify and select particular strand units which need resource augmentation. These resources are easily accessible and are stored in an organised and structured manner. A good balance exists between teacher and pupil resources for Science. The school has made appropriate provision for ‘hands-on’ resources. In the main, the school has made very good resource provision for all strands of the science curriculum. It is recommended that in a future review and audit of school resources, consideration be given to augmenting resources associated with strand units on Forces and Materials. Consideration should also be given to augmenting resources associated with designing and making activities.
The school makes effective use of its grounds for science trails and for habitat investigations. The local park is also used in an effective manner, particularly in relation to curriculum strands dealing with Living Things. A number of class teachers plan field trips to this park which are very effective in stimulating pupil interest in specific scientific phenomena. The school is commended for its proactive work in developing a school flower garden. It is recommended that consideration also be given to extending such work to the planting of vegetables.
In addition to coordinating and organising the purchase of resources, the role of the science co-ordinator also involves curriculum leadership. It is recommended that the school policy on Science make more definitive reference to the duties attaching to the role of science coordinator. School staff members display an enthusiasm for the teaching of Science and are ably led by both the science coordinator and the school principal. It is recommended that closer consideration be given to tapping such enthusiasm by way of professional development courses. The school is very active in promoting recycling and has commenced involvement in the ‘Green Schools Initiative’. Other initiatives and projects undertaken by the school include visits from the ‘Science Bus’, ‘The Mobile Farm’ and the ‘Junior Achievement Project’. On occasion, guest speakers with specific expertise in Science are invited to the school. The school has a computer room with twenty-two computers. Each classroom has a computer in situ, with internet access. The school’s active involvement in ‘The Dublin 17 Project’ is highly commended. This project offers support to one hundred pupils in the Dublin 17 area. With three support teachers and one full-time support teacher, the project aims to support certain pupils both academically and socially. Liaising closely with the class teachers, these support teachers provide support to pupils in areas such as Mathematics, English, the arts and cookery.
The school is well equipped with resources for learning in Mathematics. The school yard has recently been painted with games, which include mathematics trails and pupils are given opportunities during playtime to participate in mathematics trail activities. Some classrooms have attractive number-rich environments and have prominent displays of mathematics charts and pupils’ work. The use of explanatory charts and displays should be extended to all classrooms and throughout the school to enhance pupils’ learning. A dedicated mathematics area was in evidence and was used to good effect in most of the classrooms observed. This should now be extended to all classrooms to enhance learning during mathematics lessons. The use of concrete materials during mathematics lessons observed was effective, however further planning for the pupils’ independent use of mathematics resources during lessons in some classrooms is recommended to further develop individual pupils’ understanding of concepts through experience. The use of resources in support settings was particularly effective during the lessons observed. Teachers use the textbook as a reference point in all classes observed and all teachers prepare further differentiated tasks based on planned topics to cater for the varying abilities of pupils presenting in the classrooms.
A member of staff has recently completed a post-graduate degree in special educational needs and this expertise is shared during staff meetings and in policy development in special education. Other members of staff have engaged in continuous professional development over the years by participating in online and other teacher development courses. The board is very supportive of teachers’ ongoing professional development.
The school policy on Science is detailed and wide-ranging. It was formulated by the school staff, in consultation with a cuiditheoir from the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP). It sets out the school’s vision for Science and the key considerations to be taken into account in the teaching of Science. It makes very good provision for the use of children’s ideas as the starting points for lesson content, for a balance between knowledge and skill development, for practical investigations, for safety guidelines and for provision for pupils with special educational needs. Content is clearly delineated in a two year cycle. Very good provision is made for strand units dealing with Living Things and Energy and Forces. It is recommended that in reviewing the plan, greater consideration be given to strand units dealing with Materials and Environmental Awareness and Care. It is also recommended that in reviewing the plan, greater involvement from the board of management and the school community be elicited. In so doing, consideration should be given to sharing and displaying many of the laudable science experiments and projects observed during the inspection process with the wider public.
There is a whole school plan for Mathematics, which has been compiled through the collaborative work of teachers of class groups under the direction of the mathematics coordinator in the school. The PCSP cuiditheoir for Mathematics assisted the teachers when the whole school plan for Mathematics was put in place. Staff meetings and school based planning days are productively used to advance curricular areas and a particular emphasis has been placed on literacy and mathematics plans as a priority in the past school year.
The staff is preparing to adopt a new approach in the school where pupils with learning support and special educational needs will be supported in class as well as being withdrawn for group support. The in-school management team have consulted with staff and with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) in preparation for the planning and implementation of this new approach in the school to support pupils further in literacy and mathematics. Planning for a ‘Mathematics Recovery’ initiative is already in place and class teachers have allocated days for in-service to implement this programme in the school.
The importance of setting up a mathematics team within the school was discussed at the post evaluation meeting as a means of supporting the mathematics coordinator further in coordinating the review of the whole school plan in Mathematics and in developing the new in-class support approach for Mathematics and other mathematics initiatives in the school. The prompt documents and templates developed collaboratively by the Department of Education and Science, the PCSP and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) will be of assistance when reviewing the mathematics plan.
Whole school planning in Mathematics is outlined along the strands and strand units and areas identified and prioritised by staff for development are: problem solving in Mathematics, number operations and mental arithmetic. As these are the areas which have been prioritised by staff for particular attention, regular staff meetings should be facilitated to assist in the sharing of good practice and the consistent implementation of priorities for mathematical objectives in every classroom. Planning for methodologies in Mathematics in the whole school plan include discussion, cooperative learning, group work and paired work. While all teachers observed plan for the use of mathematical language and while mathematical language is consolidated very well in some classrooms, it is recommended that further planning should take place for the development of mathematical language in preparation for the implementation of strand and strand units in Mathematics. This could be further developed through the integration of Mathematics in theme planning across the curriculum. While emphasis is placed in whole school planning on using a variety of terminologies for mathematical concepts and operations, it is recommended that a whole school approach be adopted to using similar terminology in the implementation of simple mathematical operations. Discussion plays a significant role in the acquisition of mathematical language and in the development of mathematical concepts in the school. The teachers are commended for the attention given to all pupils for extended periods of oral reporting and discussion before presenting further work in written form.
Whole school planning for assessment and record keeping in Mathematics are in place and teachers use results of assessments for further planning. The maintenance of assessment information is well organised. Data is easily accessible and securely stored in the school. It was discussed at the post evaluation meeting that further analysis of the standardised tests results in Mathematics should assist staff in planning for interventions in Mathematics as the new in-class support approach is adopted. Consideration should be given to the review of a whole school assessment policy as a key to collaborative planning for differentiated programmes of work for in-class support in Mathematics. The work of the teachers in implementing the whole school plan for Mathematics is particularly commendable. Specific attention is given to all pupils in a conscientious and caring manner by using a variety of effective teaching and active approaches and in preparing differentiated tasks for the wide range of abilities, attainment and learning styles of pupils. The teachers are aware that continuous collaborative planning is necessary on a whole school basis to plan further for differentiated programmes of work, to improve pupil outcomes in all classrooms as the new in-class support approach is implemented. This planning should form part of the whole school review of mathematics planning in the school.
There is evidence of ongoing monitoring of curriculum implementation in Mathematics through the monthly progress teachers’ reports. A review of these monthly progress reports indicates that elements of the strands on number, shape, space and measures have been implemented and recorded. All teachers record progress in varying formats. It is recommended that all staff record progress in a similar and systematic fashion so that monthly progress reports become a more useful tool in reviewing the progress of curriculum implementation across the school.
In conjunction with the Board of Management, members of the school staff are currently formulating a policy on child protection. It is recommended that this endeavour be undertaken expediently. In so doing, it is recommended that this policy be written in consultation with the requirements of the guidelines of Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). It is recommended that child protection procedures be brought to the attention of management, school staff and parents and that a copy of the procedures be provided to all staff (including all new staff). It is recommended that management ensures that all staff members are familiar with the procedures to be followed. The school principal is the designated liaison person. A deputy designated liaison person has also been appointed.
All teachers complete long-term and short-term plans to guide their teaching in Science. These plans clearly outline the lesson content to be covered and do so in a progressional and continuous manner. Teachers’ long-term plans also outline methodologies and teaching approaches. They make very good provision for the use of resources and for the active involvement of pupils in science lessons. Similarly, teachers’ short term plans make good provision for pupil participation in science activities. In some cases, teachers’ short-term planning makes reference to differentiation strategies. It is recommended that all teachers make more definitive references to differentiation practices in their planning. All teachers complete a monthly progress report. Teachers adopt a number of strategies and approaches to assessing pupil progress in Science. In some cases, teachers’ plans could elaborate more on the use of such approaches.
All teachers provide long term and short term planning for Mathematics. The detail provided in such planning varies from teacher to teacher with some examples of commendable practice in existence. All long term plans include teaching objectives, topics and skills and methodologies in use. Copies of the reviewed mathematics school plan should be made available for all staff members to allow for closer linkage between the whole school plan and individual planning in the future. While all teachers use differentiated approaches to good effect during mathematics lessons, it is recommended that teachers’ individualised written planning should further incorporate differentiated approaches. Such approaches should specifically cater for all pupils, with specific targets for pupils experiencing difficulties with numeracy. This would also further assist collaborative planning approaches between class and support teachers. Individual Pupil Learning Programmes (IPLPs) and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) should be available in class teachers’ files for pupils with special educational needs. There is evidence that there is very good collaboration and consultation between support teachers and the classroom teachers in respect of pupils with special educational needs (SEN).
Teachers use appropriate teaching resources in support of pupils’ learning. The use of group work to support the teaching and learning of numeracy is a particular strength in all classrooms. The further analysis of standardised test results will facilitate teachers in identifying classroom groups and allow them to plan collaboratively for differentiated approaches, including the identification of differentiated teaching targets and the use of differentiated teaching strategies to suit the learning needs and styles of the pupils as the new approach to mathematics teaching is implemented in the school.
The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection process was of a very good standard. Pupils revealed interest and curiosity in science lessons and were stimulated to take an active part in these lessons. Pupils’ ideas were used effectively as starting points for many lessons and were used to probe their understanding of particular scientific concepts and phenomena. Their life experience and environment was used in a successful manner to introduce and concretise lesson content. Teachers creatively integrated lesson content with a number of other curriculum areas, most notably English and Mathematics. Lessons observed were structured, with a very good balance between discussion and ‘hands-on’ activities. Teachers are highly commended for the range of teaching approaches adopted during these lessons. Appropriate use was made of talk and discussion, demonstrations, open-ended activities and investigative work. In particular, the effective and creative use of group and pair work served to involve all pupils and developed many of their scientific skills. Pupils are encouraged to discuss and analyse scientific phenomena during science lessons, with appropriate provision being made for the pupils’ prediction, investigation and observation skills.
A large number of the lessons observed made provision for experimentation. These experiments were well chosen to develop and consolidate lesson content. They were effective in developing the pupils’ investigating, measuring, analysing, observing, predicting and recording skills. Pupils partook readily and enthusiastically in these experiments. It is recommended that such commendable work be further developed by providing greater opportunities for the pupils to discuss and examine the factors involved in experimental design and fair testing. A large number of the teachers adopt a project and/or thematic approach to the teaching of Science, using the textbook as a support resource where appropriate. Such practice is commended. It is recommended that the school explores further opportunities for the development of such approaches.
Teachers make very good use of resources to present and develop scientific concepts and principles. Pupils are given opportunities to interact with well chosen concrete resources to deepen their understanding of lesson content. The school grounds and local park are used effectively, most especially in relation to strands dealing with Living Things and Environmental Awareness and Care. Creative use is made of web-based resources to stimulate pupil interest. It is recommended that this use of information and communication technology (ICT) be extended to the wider use of software programmes. Classrooms displayed many examples of the pupils’ work in Science, with teachers making effective use of science tables and display areas. A number of classrooms displayed evidence of ongoing experiments, most notably in relation to Living Things. In this regard, teachers have made commendable use of their classroom environments to undertake planting exercises and to introduce the pupils to the factors involved in plant growth. Teachers adopt a number of approaches to assessing pupil progress, largely by observation and teacher-designed tests.
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 two strands—Environmental Awareness and Care, and the Environment—the majority of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested. In the strand dealing with Caring for the Environment, fewer than half of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested. The second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ procedural knowledge. Fewer than half of the pupils displayed mastery of the knowledge and skills required by the tasks. On the evidence of classroom observation and pupil responses to tasks, it is recommended that greater consideration be given to strand units dealing with caring for the environment and to concepts related to experimental design and fair testing.
The quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching and learning, interaction and review of pupils’ work, in six mainstream classes and four learning support settings. The teaching of Mathematics is undertaken very conscientiously at all class levels. The emphasis during class teaching is on discussion and oral reporting, which is commendable practice. Excellent care is taken to encourage each pupil to participate in oral reporting during Mathematics and all teachers challenge pupils very well in their work. Teachers plan and pace the lessons appropriately and engage pupils in suitable activities. Group work and paired work is used to very good effect in all classrooms and pupils benefit from the scaffolding of work for individual pupils during group activities. Pupils are directed effectively by teachers during groupwork and the pupils’ enjoyment, enthusiasm and responses during group activities were very positive. All teachers prepare differentiated written tasks for pupils based on lessons taught and this practice is commendable. However, care must be taken when giving pupils written problem solving tasks that they are not overcome by long written problem solving questions. While teachers introduce new terms in a structured way during mathematics lessons, further preparatory work should be undertaken in the familiarisation and introduction of specific terminology and mathematical language in strands and strand units in advance of the actual teaching of a particular concept. Some excellent practice in the use of illustrative charts for the teaching of Mathematics was observed during the evaluation. This good practice should be extended across the school.
The use of illustrative and colourful charts with explanatory terminology would support pupils in their learning of new concepts. Further planning for integration with other areas of the curriculum would greatly enhance the pupils learning and identification of new mathematical words and terms in written form. The main display areas of the school should scaffold pupils’ learning in Mathematics by displaying large charts of topics from the strands and strand units as they are being introduced in classrooms. Also, the setting of simple problem solving trails for all pupils to figure out as they go along the corridors could be a means of immersing pupils in written mathematical language. This could be a feature of classroom practice. Various strategies in this regard were shared with the teaching staff during the post evaluation meeting.
Teachers adopt whole class teaching as a methodology to introduce concepts. Approaches such as group work and working in pairs are adopted to very good effect so that pupils can co-operate and collaborate with each other while reading mathematical tasks and while they are engaging in problem solving.
There is excellent provision for oral work in all classrooms observed and significant emphasis is placed on tables and number operations. Pupils in all classes enjoy number challenges. They display accuracy in computational skills both when responding to oral questioning and in the completion of written number assignments. However, teachers are aware that further specific targeted initiatives are required to improve pupil outcomes in written tasks and tests in Mathematics. Overall there are satisfactory pupil outcomes with regard to oral number operations across the school, based on work covered since the beginning of the school year. However, pupil outcomes in written problem-solving tasks are not of the same standard.
Teachers related their teaching to real life experiences very effectively, so that pupils can actively engage in understanding concepts through experience. Teachers use manipulative materials in a structured way in some classrooms with evidence of some very good practice. The methodologies adopted by all class teachers are very good. However, there is a discrepancy between the teaching methods in use and pupil outcomes as evidenced in the results of standardised tests. It is recommended that teachers should build on the strengths of paired and group work in the classrooms to focus on the needs of the weaker pupils and also of those higher ability pupils to stretch them in learning and to motivate them further through posing regular, challenging, mathematical problems. This approach will be of benefit to all classes when the in-class learning support approach is under way. All mainstream class teachers maintain records of progress in strands which have been taught.
The pupils’ copybooks are generally neat and indicate that satisfactory attention is paid to recording of work. Tests of tables are a feature of all classrooms. There is evidence that some teachers assess the pupils regularly through the use of teacher-designed tests and record progress in a systematic manner. This practice is highly praiseworthy and should now be extended across the school. A range of assessment tools including teacher observation, ongoing monitoring of written work, teacher-designed tests and homework is used by teachers to inform the teaching and learning in the school. However, a whole school approach and the further development of a whole school assessment policy would ensure a more consistent approach to the monitoring of pupils’ progress. The further use of structured checklists to support teacher observations in monitoring pupils’ progress is recommended. Some classes maintain pupil profiles and involve pupils in self-assessment. Pupils’ written work is regularly corrected and comments made by teachers on pupils’ copies are positive and affirming, pointing the way towards improvement. The administration of a range of standardised tests such as the Sigma-T, Non Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT) and Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT) is carried out on an annual basis. The Special Education Needs (SEN) coordinator regularly liaises with the junior school and with post-primary schools to assist with the transition of pupils. These liaisons should be further explored with greater inclusion of the mathematics co-ordinator and the home school community liaison (HSCL) coordinators. This will further assist the coordination of planning for Mathematics.
Very good learning support provision is applied to Mathematics in the school. Individual planning by support staff is satisfactory. Teachers employ a range of methodologies which include mathematical games, individual work, pair work and computer games. While teachers use some software for Mathematics, it is recommended that additional software in Mathematics be sourced to enhance teaching and learning in this area. Children in the third class section of the school experience an extremely well structured ‘Maths for Fun’ programme, which is coordinated by the HSCL co-ordinator and is operated by class teachers with the help of parents. The special education team liaises closely with all members of staff, exploiting the talents and expertise of different staff members in so doing. The commitment and dedication of the teaching staff to the support of children with special educational needs is a particular and noteworthy strength of the school. Pupils are selected for learning support in Mathematics on the basis of their performance on standardised test results as outlined in the learning support guidelines. All pupils for learning support are currently withdrawn in class groupings but plans are now being prepared for more in-class support for these pupils. It is recommended that this plan for greater provision for in-class teaching be advanced.
The pupils’ individual profile and learning programmes (IPLPs) are devised in consultation with class teachers and the relevant professionals. To ensure continuity between home and school, parents are consulted about pupils’ IPLPs at parent-teacher meetings. This good practice should be further developed so that parents are involved in setting targets at the initial stages of the individual plans and are advised of strategies and approaches which they could adopt to support this work. The HSCL co-ordinator service is an invaluable resource in developing further links with parents in this regard. A high level of consultation and co-operation is maintained between the class teachers and the support teachers and detailed records of pupil progress are maintained. Good use is made of high quality teaching resources to enhance learning in Mathematics in the learning support and resource settings. The resource teachers undertake individual planning for pupils and copies of the Individual Education Plans (IEPs) indicate good progress being made by pupils in achieving their targets as set out by the teachers.
Teachers make every effort to engage pupils in purposeful activities. Pupils experienced success during the lessons observed during the evaluation. Pupils are well motivated and eager to learn. During a post-evaluation meeting, the SEN team expressed its vision ‘that pupils would walk tall at the end of the school year with confidence’. Such a vision is commendable. It was evident from all teachers’ efforts during the evaluation that their commitment and dedication to the pupils’ overall care and progress is a particularly noteworthy strength of this school.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school adopts a number of proactive approaches to involving parents and the wider community in the life of the school.
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.