An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Science and Mathematics 2007
Presentation Primary School,
Roll Number: 19874T
Date of inspection: 30 November 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. 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.
Two inspectors carried out the evaluation in Scoil Mhuire. 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.
Scoil Mhuire is staffed by ten mainstream teachers, an administrative principal, three learning support teachers/resource teachers, two of whom are shared with another school, two resource teachers for Traveller pupils one of whom is shared, a part-time home school liaison teacher, and two temporary language support teachers. The school is under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Cashel and Emly and the trusteeship of the Presentation order. The school is situated in the centre of Thurles town and its catchments area is primarily Thurles and the immediate rural hinterland. The school caters for pupils from junior infants to sixth classes. Boys transfer from the school at the end of first class. On the 30 September 2007 there were 237 pupils enrolled. The enrolment is projected to remain stable in the future.
A very positive school climate was in evidence in the school during the evaluation period. The teachers work collaboratively and are committed to creating a learning environment that fosters pupils’ self-esteem and learning at a level appropriate to their age and ability. The principal displays very good leadership qualities. She has very good interpersonal skills and uses these to communicate effectively with the staff, members of the board of management and parents.
The school is commendably active in engaging with parents and the wider community. The parents’ association organises the book rental scheme, helps with the bi-annual Cór na nÓg concert, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. They are also involved fundraising activities, assist with craft fairs, and helps train the camogie and athletics teams. The Parents’ Association is to be commended for its support of the school in these activities.
There school has twenty mainstream classrooms. Eight of these are in use as support areas. One is in use as a general office and administration area and another is in use as a central library. The school has a large room that is used for Visual Arts activities. The principal occupies a spacious office which is adjacent to the staffroom. A large general purposes room is also available and this is enhanced by a full stage and lighting system. The floor of the general purposes room is lined for indoor sports activities.
The school building is in an excellent state of repair internally. Great care is taken to achieve a comfortable, stimulating and aesthetic environment throughout the school. The corridors are well maintained and cleaned on a daily basis. A caretaker is employed in the school and the external environment of the school is also very well maintained.
A good range of educational equipment is available for use in all subject areas and these resources are stored in specific classrooms. This is true of the resources in Science and Mathematics. These include some mathematical equipment, library books and some concrete materials. The principal, the Science and Mathematics co-ordinators and class teachers all indicated that there is scope for continued development of the range of resources in the school to support the teaching and learning process in most areas of the curriculum.
2.1 Resources for Science
The school has a good range of physical resources and materials in the school for the teaching of Science. The school has purchased and is engaged in an ongoing process of purchasing additional resources to support hands-on learning activities in the various strands of the Science curriculum. The development of “Science boxes” which contain materials dedicated for use with specific strands of the curriculum is commended. It is evident that continued investment is required in order to ensure that all pupils will have the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning experiences across all strands.
The school’s immediate natural environment is a very valuable resource for learning about Living Things. The school is situated in a large green area with many mature trees in the school grounds. A nature trail is planned for development in the school grounds in the near future. The school has carried out an environmental audit and it is planned that each class will engage in designated habitat studies each year. The designation of these learning experiences is very worthwhile and these activities will ensure that continuity and progression are achieved over the eight year cycle.
One of the mainstream teachers has responsibility for Science in the school. Specific responsibilities have been delegated to this post-holder in respect of the provision of resources and the co-ordination of Science in the school plan. A range of equipment has been purchased for the school. The responsibilities attached to the post of Science co-ordinator should include reviewing and implementing the Science plan as well as auditing and managing the Science equipment. It is recommended that the duties of this post be broadened to provide overall curricular leadership in Science. Responsibilities might include the co-ordination of the following activities: the continued development and use of the school grounds as a resource for learning, the use of textbooks, the use computer software and other classroom resources. The development of assessment tasks in Science in collaboration with the staff would also be of benefit in assessing pupils’ attainment in skills and knowledge in Science.
2.2 Resources for Mathematics
The school provides a good range of appropriate mathematical equipment for use in the classrooms including age-appropriate mathematical equipment, illustrative materials, text books, reference books and teacher designed materials. The provision of resources for Mathematics, particularly concrete materials requires further development. Pupils’ work is displayed in mathematical areas and pupils’ enthusiasm is also nurtured through the use of centres of interest in Mathematics in the classes evaluated. The use of charts outlining mathematical language in some classrooms is also a feature of good practise.
3.1 Whole-school planning in Science
The plan that has been developed to date is very comprehensive. It was formulated after a process of staff consultation and curriculum research. The school plan is based on the structure of the Primary Science Curriculum and its key emphases. The vision statement in the plan, states that an investigative approach will be encouraged with an emphasis on active learning through enjoyable participation in well planned learning experiences. The school plan in Science was devised by the principal, the Science co-ordinator and the staff in collaboration with the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) facilitator.
The plan is organised under the following headings, aims, curriculum planning, assessment, children with special educational needs, equality of participation and access, timetable, resources and equipment, safety, homework, individual teachers’ planning and reporting, staff development, parental involvement, community links and success criteria.
An overview of the content objectives that pupils will be enabled to understand have been outlined in grid format in the plan. The strand unit and the content objectives from each of the four strands have been detailed for each term at each class level. This provides all class teachers with a clear overview of the content that is to be taught throughout the school year. A comprehensive list of resources is documented in the plan. The plan also includes reference to a number of initiatives already taking place in the school. These include the Green Schools Project, Science Week activities, National Tree Week, Energy Awareness Week, Car Free Day and National Spring Clean Week. The school is also engaged in a partnership project with the Presentation post-primary school. Senior pupils from Scoil Mhuire are provided with opportunities to visit the Science laboratories in the Presentation post-primary school and to engage in lessons designed by the post-primary teachers that provide pupils with an insight into Science at post-primary level.
The school plan documents the primary methodologies that will be utilised during the teaching of Science. According to the plan teaching and learning will begin from the children’s prior knowledge and the main methodologies will be practical investigations featuring free exploration of the materials where appropriate. The audit of the school’s environment is commended and its planned use at each of the class levels will provide a richness of opportunity to explore many of the strands and strand units in the curriculum.
The plan also outlines a wide range of assessment tools and it is recommended that the staff should design practical exemplars that would be of value in evaluating pupils’ attainment in each of the strands at each class level.
3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics
A very good school plan for Mathematics has been devised. This plan was formulated by the principal in collaboration with the staff in 2004 and amended in 2006. In 2007 the plan was further amended which involved significant levels of co-operation at staff level supported by the by the Mathematics co-ordinator and the Regional Curriculum Support Services (RCSS) co-ordinator. The plan outlines the rationale, vision and specific aims identified by the staff as relevant to their school. The programme is based on the strands and strand units of the curriculum. A comprehensive list of mathematical language for each class level has been included and this is praiseworthy.
The plan emphasises the development of mathematical skills and it also confirms that a variety of methodologies is used during the Mathematics lessons. The plan contains direction on problem-solving in real life contexts, assessment, the use of calculators, homework, home-school links and use of the environment in teaching Mathematics. The plan shows how linkages will be made among the strands of the mathematics curriculum. A detailed inventory of the school’s mathematical equipment, resources and textbooks has also been compiled.
The school plan refers to the use of the environment and mathematical trails. However, the potential of the school’s environment as a resource for learning in Mathematics has not yet been fully explored. It is recommended that Mathematics trails be developed for all class levels and documented in the school plan.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have developed and adopted a very comprehensive policy in relation to Child Protection in line with the relevant legislation. It is recommended that appropriate steps be taken to develop a clear policy in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001) without delay. A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy liaison person have been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines. It is recommended that a copy of the reviewed policy be disseminated to all staff and board members.
3.3 Classroom planning
Teachers’ long-term planning generally reflects the structure and language of the Primary school Curriculum. In general the quality of the long-term and short-term plans is very good. Some long-term plans make reference to methodologies, assessment and differentiation. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all classes. Increased attention to the differentiation of the programme content will be of particular benefit to pupils with special needs and pupils whose first language is not English.
All teachers observed prepare short-term schemes of work that reflect a balanced approach to all the strands and strand units in Science and Mathematics. In general the quality of individual short-term planning is very good. The best developed plans include curriculum objectives, mathematical language, methodologies, resources, assessment and differentiation. It is recommended that all teachers include all elements in their short-term planning.
Common monthly progress records are maintained in content format by mainstream class teachers. The qualitative analysis of pupil outcomes is recommended as an extension of the good practise observed. It is recommended that this issue form part of staff deliberations when reviewing the curriculum provision for Mathematics and Science.
4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science
Science lessons were observed in living things, energy and forces, environmental awareness and care and materials with a focus on designing and making. In general, the lessons observed were very well prepared and presented clearly. In general, the teaching was good with some very good examples observed during the evaluation. This very good teaching was characterised by teachers who used a wide range of teaching methodologies including, group and collaborative work, individual instruction, the use of concrete materials, illustrative materials, talk and discussion, demonstration, pupils undertaking experiments and some investigative work. In most classes talk and discussion was the predominant methodology. However, some activity based learning was observed in these classrooms and it is recommended that this practise should be extended. There should be a greater emphasis on children working scientifically. There was some evidence of investigative work in all classes and some pupils had a very good understanding of the language of Science. The development of Science investigation areas in all classrooms is recommended.
In the majority of the lessons observed, the emphasis on science skills was limited to observing, predicting, estimating, recording, sorting and classifying. Most of the lessons were teacher directed and as a consequence there is evidence that many pupils find it difficult to plan their own fair tests and experiments. It is recommended, therefore, that there be an increased focus on the development of the skills required in the exploring and planning stages of the scientific process.
The outcomes of lessons in some classrooms would be improved if specific objectives from the curriculum and intended learning outcomes were identified in the planning of individual teachers. It is recommended that a clear assessment policy be devised and implemented in order to monitor pupils’ attainment of concepts and skills in Science throughout the school.
As part of this evaluation, two sets of tasks were administered to assess the pupils’ conceptual and procedural knowledge. The first set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ conceptual knowledge.
In the strand Materials, almost half of the pupils demonstrated an understanding of the concept tested in respect of properties and characteristics of materials and greater than two fifths of the pupils demonstrated proficiency in materials and change. In the strand Energy and Forces greater than four fifths of the pupils had difficulties in the strand unit forces, greater than four fifths of the pupils demonstrated proficiency in strand-unit light, almost all pupils showed competence in the concepts related to magnetism and electricity. Greater than one quarter of the pupils demonstrated proficiency in the concepts related to sound and heat.
Pupils completed tasks in the strand Living Things and more than three quarters of the pupils demonstrated proficiency in the strand-unit Myself. Almost two thirds had difficulties with tasks in the concepts relating to plant and animal life. The fourth strand in which tasks were administered was the strand of Environmental Awareness and Care. Three tasks were administered in respect of the following concepts, environmental awareness, science and the environment and caring for the environment. In the area of environmental awareness, almost half of pupils demonstrated a good understanding of the concepts tested. In science and the environment approximately all of pupils demonstrated proficiency. None of pupils demonstrated competency in the concepts relating to caring for the environment.
A second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ procedural knowledge. Less than twenty percent of pupils tested in junior classes displayed competency in the skills required by the task. In the middle standards the appropriate skills had been acquired by twenty percent of the pupils. More than half the children tested at senior level displayed competency in the skills tested by the tasks. Based on the evidence of classroom observation and pupil responses to tasks, it is recommended that greater consideration be given to the intended learning outcomes of lessons in Science and to the delineation of specific objectives from the Science curriculum for each lesson. Teachers should ensure that their class programme is in accordance with the objectives of the Primary School Curriculum and the school plan. Activities and resources should be chosen and used accordingly. It is recommended that greater opportunities be provided for pupils to engage further in investigation, fair testing and designing and making in the future.
4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics
The quality of teaching in Mathematics in classrooms is good and very good in a few classes. Pupils in most classes are encouraged to work independently, individually and in small groups as appropriate. Effective questioning skills are used to stimulate higher-order thinking. From the lessons observed, it is evident that there is generally an appropriate amount of discussion during lessons. In some classes however further attention needs to be given to the structure and pace of the lessons so that the pupils are given sufficient opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills. Consolidation and review need to be included as essential elements of all lessons. Further time and resources need to be devoted to teaching mathematical vocabulary and eliciting this vocabulary from the pupils. This is particularly important for pupils whose first language is not English.
Appropriate emphasis was placed on whole-class and group teaching; the pupils were motivated and involved in the lessons and the structure and pace of the lessons were good in a few classes. In some classes good in-class support is provided for pupils experiencing difficulty. The pupils’ work is regularly monitored and copies were corrected. The teachers use a variety of assessment methods in Mathematics. These include teacher observation and teacher-devised and commercial tests and the use of standardised testing. The results of these tests should be monitored carefully to identify patterns and trends in achievement. Files are maintained and records of pupils’ progress are stored centrally in the school.
4.3 Quality of support for pupils in Mathematics
The policy in relation to provision for pupils with learning difficulties/ special educational needs was reviewed in the school year 2006/2007 and a draft policy has been formulated in collaboration with the special needs team, board of management, the principal, class teachers and parents. The policy incorporates the staged approach detailed in circular 02/05. The school has two full-time learning support/resource teachers, one full-time resource teacher for Traveller pupils, one language support teacher for newcomer pupils, one shared resource teacher for Travellers pupils, two shared resource/learning support teachers together with a part-time language support teacher for newcomer pupils. All of these teachers provide support for literacy and in recent years have been providing supplementary teaching in Mathematics. Pupils who are considered in need of extra assistance with numeracy receive tuition on a withdrawal basis, on an individual basis or in groups of two or three. The learning support/resource teachers also work in classrooms supporting pupils during Mathematics lessons. Tuition is provided in a caring and professional manner. Decisions to include pupils for supplementary teaching are made by the class teacher in consultation with the principal and the special education teachers, based on pupils’ scores on standardised tests.
The learning-support rooms where this teaching takes place are bright, spacious and equipped with stimulating material. These areas incorporate number-rich environments and regular access to a range of materials and computer software is provided. Content and methodology are tailored to the individual needs of the pupils and praise and positive reinforcement are used very constructively to motivate pupils’ sense of confidence and achievement. The special education teachers meet in the final term for formal discussion of the caseloads to be allocated to each teacher in September of the following school year. Meetings are held when appropriate to discuss pupils’ progress with class teachers.
The matters discussed include the topic to be covered in the subsequent week as well as potential problem areas and the pupils who are likely to experience difficulty. Individual Pupil Learning Profiles (IPLPs) are drawn up by the special education teachers in consultation with the class teacher and the principal. It is recommended that the resource teacher should liaise with parents of pupils receiving additional supports and inform them of the programme of work and the specific targets which will be undertaken with each pupil during the instructional term.
Where pupils are receiving support in Mathematics the system could be enhanced, by the provision of more focused planning documentation (see Learning Support Guidelines 2000). While pupils need support in respect of the work being carried out in class, a discrete programme for pupils should be devised on the basis of the individual needs as identified in diagnostic tests. IPLPs identifying the specific targets for individual pupils should be formulated in collaboration with the classroom teachers on a termly basis. The short-term plans should then be based on the targets outlined in the IPLP. Progress records of the specific targets attained by individual pupils should be provided on a monthly basis by members of the learning support team. All pupils have a folder which contains a record of work completed including worksheets and copies. This work is well presented and well monitored.Pupils’ learning support is discontinued on the basis of screening test results and consultation with the class teacher.
In the area of language support, the quality of the planning is very comprehensive and very good long- and short-term targets are detailed in these plans. Very comprehensive records are maintained on the attainment of pupils. The work of class teachers in providing regular review of the pupils’ attainment in class is commended and it is evident that very good in-class support is provided for newcomer pupils. Very good teaching strategies are employed and the pupils are focused and engaged in their learning
It is recommended that a co-ordinator of special education be appointed from among the staff to clarify procedures, monitor and develop further systems for conveying information and keeping records together with liaising with outside agencies. When the opportunity arises it is recommended that the school implement a Reading Recovery and Mathematics Recovery programme.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation.
• There is a very positive school climate with competent and dedicated teachers.
• There is a multi-cultural dimension to the provision and quality of language support for pupils.
• The principal demonstrates very good leadership skills and she is highly respected by the board of management, staff and community.
• The teachers are very committed to the social and educational development of the pupils in their care.
• A broad and balanced curriculum is delivered in the school.
• Openness to engage with new ideas is evident among the staff.
• The school accommodation and grounds is of a very good quality and maintained to the highest standards.
• Pupils’ behaviour and application to tasks and their engagement in the learning process is very good.
• The school achieves good standards in Mathematics.
• Most aspects of the teaching of Science are good with some areas having scope for development.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made.
• Teachers should ensure that their class programme is in accordance with the objectives of the Primary School Curriculum and the school plan.
• A more investigative approach to teaching of Science should be adopted and the pupils provided with opportunities to engage in more open-ended science investigations.
• It is recommended that opportunities to engage in fair testing, and designing and making on a regular basis be planned for in the future to develop Science skills.
• Additional emphasis should be placed on consolidation, review and assessment in Science and Mathematics
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff, at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science wishes to acknowledge the contributions made by the principal and teachers during the course of the evaluation. It is hoped that this report will be directly useful to the school as a basis for review and development of practice at school level. It is anticipated that the composite report on the quality of teaching and learning of Science will serve as a valuable reference at system level and will inform the further development of policy and provision for the teaching of Science.
Published September 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The staff and board of Management of Scoil Mhuire wish to thank the inspectors involved in this report for their courtesy and professionalism. We appreciate their affirmation of the work and dedication of all the personnel involved in our school. We will develop our science and Maths in line with the recommendations.