An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Abbeycartron National School
Elphin, Co. Roscommon
Roll Number: 19809I
Date of inspection: 21 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 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 Abbeycartron NS. 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; a response was not received from the board.
Abbeycartron NS is located in the town of Elphin, Co. Roscommon approximately 20km from Boyle and 13km from Carrick-on-Shannon. It was built in 1901 on the site of a convent, which was founded in 1868. Staffing comprises a teaching principal, four assistant mainstream class teachers, a full-time special education teacher (SET) and a part-time resource teacher for pupils with special educational needs. It is one of a number of rural primary schools, which will have access shortly to a teacher/co-coordinator serving a cluster of schools. This additional support will strengthen home-school-community links and will enable the implementation of numeracy and literacy programmes. The new initiative is being delivered by the Department of Education and Science under Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS).
School accommodation comprises a large two-story building and two smaller buildings to the rear of the school. The two-story building comprises three classrooms downstairs, a resource room and ample toilet and cloakroom facilities. Upstairs houses a staff room, a classroom and two other rooms with a temporary divide which is used for Visual Arts, Drama, school assemblies and concerts.
The larger of the two buildings outside comprises three classrooms. Two of these three classrooms were converted into one room on a temporary basis to accommodate a multi-class grouping. The other classroom is the base for the SET. Plans are in place to make two classrooms out of the former three rooms and to find an alternative base for the SET. There is more than sufficient cloakroom space in the main building so a base can be created within existing accommodation. The smaller of the two buildings at the rear consists of one large room used for Physical Education. The board of management hopes to extend this building. Both of these buildings to the rear are in need of refurbishment.
The school is active in engaging with parents and the wider community. It has been involved in the School Warden’s programme for many years and this practice is commendable. The school participates in many local art competitions with notable successes and also has strong links with the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). It has commenced involvement with the Green Schools and the local environment is used frequently throughout the school year. In order to enhance teaching and learning, personnel such as the nurse and the environmental awareness officer from Roscommon Co. Council are invited into the school to share their expertise with the pupils.
Resources for Science
All classrooms facilitate work in Science. Teachers create stimulating and attractive nature and investigation tables that enliven and enrich the pupils’ interest in Science. A wide range of learning and teaching resources is prepared and used effectively. Samples of pupils’ work including experiments, diagrams and photographic evidence of field trips are displayed creatively in the classrooms and corridors. Pupils’ work in art celebrating the coverage of the various strands and strand units in the school is noteworthy. The addition of bird tables in the school grounds adds considerably to pupils’ learning. The language of Science is displayed on a widespread basis in all classrooms. It is clear that the school has sufficient resources to support hands-on learning activities in the various strands of the science curriculum. Equipment and materials are purchased, labelled and stored by the science co-ordinator in a central location and deployed effectively in classrooms. Some teachers use information and communications technology (ICT) such as the Sligo Seashore project CD and other useful websites to bolster preparation and teaching. However, the further use of ICT, additional software and the data projector should be fully exploited across the school. The senior classes use the Eureka magazine on a regular basis to supplement teaching and learning in Science. The school is involved in the Discover Primary Science programme. There is evidence of good use of this resource in supporting teaching and learning.
Very good use is made of the town and the school environs for learning about Living Things, Materials and Environmental Awareness and Care in Science. The ruins of the cathedral, which was the former seat of the bishop of Elphin, the local mart, the GAA pitch, the windmill and the town, are all used very judiciously in the teaching of this subject. The school has a considerable amount of green area to the rear of the school and consideration has been given to the development of a school garden in part of that area.
The staff has availed of many professional development opportunities in Science. Some teachers have participated in summer courses run through their local education centre and others through local heritage centres such as Cruachain Ai in Tulsk and Lanesboro. The staff members have availed of the cuiditheoir service from the Primary Curriculum Support Service (PCSP) in formulating the science plan and some staff have attended training in the Discover Primary Science Programme. There is notable use of the exemplars from the curriculum books in Science by a number of teachers. This is praiseworthy practice. A class teacher is the science co-ordinator. She has provided in-school support for staff in organising briefing sessions and in sharing her expertise with the staff. The post of science co-ordinator is not part of a post of responsibility.
Resources for Mathematics
The school makes very good provision for the use of suitable mathematical equipment, illustrative materials, textbooks and other supplementary reference books. A comprehensive inventory of resources is included in the school plan, on a teacher-by-teacher basis, and all classrooms have areas devoted to visual aids and concrete materials relating to the teaching and learning of Mathematics. Increasingly the school is making allowance for the provision of ICT software, which is adding further impetus to the consolidation of work covered in the mathematics programme and to the development of higher-order thinking skills in the pupils. The staff is correctly very conscious that the pupils should use calculators and other ICT resources meaningfully and provide suitable opportunities for the use of same. However, it is recommended that the school continues to add to the software packages that it has already acquired. The potential of the school’s immediate and further environs to facilitate the learning and teaching of Mathematics is very cleverly addressed by the teachers and mathematical trails are devised regularly at suitable times of the year.
The staff has engaged actively with the PCSP and has availed of the services of the cuiditheoir service in developing the school plan for Mathematics and in ensuring that all strands of the curriculum are covered. There has been admirable up-skilling of staff, particularly in the area of learning support.
3.1 Whole-school planning in Science
The staff formulated the school plan in Science in a collegial manner with advice and support given by the cuiditheoir from the PCSP. A comprehensive list of available resources in the school is clearly documented in the plan. The policy outlines the various methodologies to be used by class teachers. The staff has a clear policy that at least three objectives from each strand unit are taught to each class grouping each year. This is commendable practice. There is a strong emphasis on a broad and balanced curriculum delivery in Science. Careful consideration is given in the plan to ensure that all pupils are given ample opportunities to engage in appropriate activities and in adequate talk and discussion. Useful websites are cited in the plan, which teachers can use in preparation for their lessons. Teachers note suitable opportunities for both linkage and integration and this has translated into high quality classroom planning. Designated habitat studies are listed which are used regularly by pupils and teachers. The plan is due to be reviewed in 2008.
3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics
The principal and staff have collaborated very effectively with one another to produce a comprehensive school plan for Mathematics. The plan, which is subject to review, has been driven by the principal, as mathematics co-ordinator, and has been ratified by the board of management. The plan encompasses all the main components of good planning and places particular emphasis on the use of appropriate equipment in promoting the pupils’ active learning and also on the correct use of mathematical language. In this latter regard it lists mathematical vocabulary and terminology on a class-by-class basis. An important feature of the school plan includes the listing of agreed strategies by staff for the teaching of many important concepts and procedures. This ensures a consistency and continuity of approach from classroom to classroom. There are clear and helpful policy statements on learning support for pupils across the full spectrum of ability. The school’s commitment to conduct standardised tests in Mathematics on an annual basis where appropriate and the importance attached to a problem-solving approach to the teaching of the subject are also clearly stated in the plan.
3.3 Classroom planning in Science
Teachers’ long-term and short-term planning in Science is of a very high standard. Teachers have extensive long-term plans which make reference to content objectives, methodologies, resources, assessment and differentiation and which show clear evidence of continuity and progression. Increased attention to the differentiation of programme content, indicating specific tasks, would help to cater further for the varying abilities of pupils, including those with special educational and language needs. The quality long-term plans provided by teachers translate effectively into carefully executed short-term plans and well-structured lessons. Classroom planning indicates that topics are integrated very creatively with other subjects of the curriculum. This is a particularly strong aspect of the school’s classroom planning. Monthly records in Science indicate the content objectives, the knowledge and skills taught.
3.4 Classroom planning in Mathematics
All teachers prepare their own work for the teaching of Mathematics very conscientiously. Their yearly and short-term schemes are very well referenced to the Primary School Curriculum and the school plan. The important areas of content, methods, use of resources, differentiation, integration and assessment are given due attention. The teachers very obviously collaborate and discuss their work with one another and there is a consistency of approach observed across classroom planning generally. The implementation of differentiation is particularly evidenced in the compilation of the individual profile and learning programmes (IPLPs) and individual education plans (IEPs) which are drawn up by the support teachers in conjunction with the class teachers. Teachers maintain monthly accounts of work completed. They maintain accurate records of pupil achievement in Mathematics, mainly on a seasonal basis, in line with recording sheets from the relevant textbooks and also by virtue of the annual standardised tests.
4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science
Pupils are taught in settings appropriate to the lesson and pupils’ needs. Lessons are carefully structured and well paced. Teachers are highly effective in delivering an equitable breadth and balance of strands and strand units of the science curriculum. Teachers use the pupils’ ideas succinctly at the start of lessons and they foster curiosity in pupils. Teachers are adept at questioning, explaining and giving instruction and they relate science teaching to the everyday experience of the pupils. A variety of teaching methodologies is employed purposefully which includes working with concrete materials, unstructured and structured play, talk and discussion, demonstration, pupils undertaking experiments, working with the local environment and open-ended investigations. Teachers work diligently in preparing active learning tasks for their pupils. On the evidence of classroom observation and pupils’ responses to tasks, teachers are developing pupils’ skills very effectively in Working Scientifically and are in the process of developing pupils’ skills of Designing and Making. The pupils record their work on sheets or in copies. Teacher observation is a frequently used mode of assessment. It was noted that the further use of ICT to support record keeping and learning in Science should be explored. There is appropriate attention given to the teaching of scientific language.
Pupils display enthusiasm and energy in science lessons and are appropriately challenged by the activities. High quality lessons were observed in all of the strand units. The pupils observed were absorbed in the highly interactive tasks assigned to them by teachers. Pupils undertake field trips and engage in recycling projects with interest. Teachers maximise opportunities for all pupils to be actively involved in their own learning. Pupils with learning needs learn in mixed ability settings and are supported and encouraged by their teachers in the process. Pupils use the terminology of Science appropriately as they discuss their work and they can evaluate and draw conclusions from their investigations and experiments. A coherent and systematic approach to pupil assessment is reflected in individual teachers’ plans. The teachers undertake a series of teacher-designed worksheets and commercially produced materials to monitor progress in the subject. It is recommended that all classes assign jobs to pupils as they begin to work in groups. The concept of co-operative learning could be explored to enhance teaching and learning.
As part of the 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 Energy and forces, the majority of the pupils demonstrated mastery of both strand units Light and Sound, while fewer than half demonstrated mastery in the strand unit Magnetism and electricity. Almost all of the pupils assessed demonstrated mastery of both strand units Heat and Forces. In the strand Living things, almost all the pupils assessed displayed mastery of the concepts tested in Human life while the majority of the pupils displayed mastery of the concept tested in Plant and animal life. In the strand Materials, all of the pupils assessed demonstrated mastery in both strand units Materials and change and Properties and characteristics of materials. In the strand Environmental awareness and care almost all of the pupils assessed demonstrated mastery of the strand unit Environmental awareness while the majority of the pupils demonstrated mastery in both the strand units Science and the environment and Caring for the environment. The second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ procedural knowledge. All of the pupils in the middle classes demonstrated mastery of the knowledge and skills required by the task. In the junior and the senior classes the number of pupils who had mastered the objectives ranged from fewer than half in one class to a small number in another class.
4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics
The very good quality of the teachers’ preparation is well reflected in the classrooms. The full range of the mathematics programme is being covered comprehensively and the pupils in all classes indicate a very keen interest in their work. There is a very suitable mix of whole-class, group and individualised teaching in operation and pupils are encouraged to ask questions about their mathematics. Very good use is made of a variety of concrete and illustrative materials from the infants’ classes right up to the senior classes. The pupils engage to very good effect in the activity learning and record their findings accurately and neatly. The teachers make Mathematics real for the pupils by making appropriate reference to their immediate environment in school and at home and by choosing themes and settings that stimulate their interest.
In the five classrooms visited well-planned and skilfully executed lessons were observed. The lessons encompassed themes such as spatial mathematics, graphical representation, money matters, measuring capacity and the language of chance. There was good linkage between the strands of Mathematics and integration with other subject areas of the curriculum in evidence. All teachers realise the importance of mental mathematics and pupils are being enabled to acquire mastery of relevant number facts and of the appropriate computational skills in line with their needs and ability. Most pupils throughout the school indicate a very commendable level of knowledge of numbers facts, a good understanding of the relevant mathematical concepts and a confidence in engaging in mathematical activities, such as problem solving. The teachers assess the pupils’ progress in Mathematics on a regular basis and there is evidence that these assessment results inform their planning. Allowing for the obvious range of ability of pupils within all classes, standardised test results over the last number of years are reflective of the high quality of learning and teaching of the subject.
4.3 Quality of supplementary teaching for pupils in Mathematics
The school has the services of one full-time learning-support/resource teacher and also of a part-time resource teacher. Both collaborate very effectively with the class teachers to provide excellent supplementary support for pupils who have particular learning needs in Mathematics. The support teachers provide very good assistance for their colleagues by way of advice on differentiated approaches for the teaching and learning of Mathematics and by way of providing suitable back-up learning materials. IPLPs and IEPs, with a commendable level of targeting following appropriate consultation with parents and class teachers, have been drawn up for the pupils with special learning needs.
There is very good provision made for the use of a variety of resources for support teaching in Mathematics within the school. Good use is made of appropriate software packages to further the pupils’ interest in Mathematics and provide an element of fun. Careful consideration is given to early intervention initiatives and very good use is made of diagnostic tests, most particularly Quest, in determining the pupils who will receive supplementary teaching in Mathematics in first class. The supplementary teaching is of a very high order and there is admirable attention devoted to instilling in pupils a love of Mathematics and developing their self-confidence. It would appear that pupils are benefiting very considerably from the additional support.
Supplementary support in Mathematics is usually offered on a withdrawal basis. In-class support is sometimes given and in order to add further impetus to sharing good practice between class teachers and support teachers the extension of this form of intervention, where practicable, might be considered.
The following are the main strengths identified.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made.