An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evalaution : Science 2007
North Presentation Primary School
Gerald Griffin Street, Cork
Roll Number: 20036J
Date of inspection: 21 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Two inspectors were involved in the evaluation in North Presentation Primary School. 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.
This school is situated on a site of limited proportions within the North Presentation Convent grounds in inner Cork City. The Presentation sisters have provided education for the people of the surrounding area since 1799 and their schools were affiliated to the National System in 1881. The current building dates to 1968 when two schools, comprising a school for first to sixth class girls and a mixed infants school, were housed here and in the adjoining older building respectively. In 1996 these two schools were amalgamated into one and the school now caters for boys and girls to first class, and girls only from second to sixth. The school building presents as a three-storey gated structure and the decorative order is good. Immediately outside there is a small hard surfaced yard that serves as a car park and at a higher level there is a sports pitch that doubles as a play area. It is unfortunate that the school does not have a playing field but the children have regular access to the nuns’ garden for educational activities. This goes in some way to lessen the impact of the strikingly confined site.
The staff consists of an administrative principal and twenty teachers. Of these, eleven have charge of mainstream classes, three are learning support/resource teachers, two are language support teachers, two work in the Early Start pre-school initiative and one serves as home school community liaison co-ordinator. There are also two child care assistants who support the efforts of the Early Start teachers and a special needs assistant who works in the area of special needs. In addition, there is a caretaker and two job-sharing secretaries whose contribution to the operation of the school is most appreciated. The school receives additional resources under Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) which is designed to address educational disadvantage, and this is reflected in the higher than normal number of non-mainstream teachers.
There are 227 boys and girls on roll and this contrasts with a total of 282 in 2000 when the last School Report (Tuairisc Scoile) was produced. Both these figures are in high contrast with the 1925 enrolment when no less that 1,270 were recorded. However, the relentless population decline experienced in this area of the city has been slowed in recent times by an influx of non-nationals, and this trend is reflected in an enrolment of international pupils that constitutes no less than thirty-percent of all pupils in the school.
There is a happy atmosphere about the school and pupils experience a calm and friendly environment. They are open, friendly and hardworking, and an industrious staff leads them to take pride in their school. Close links are maintained with parents and their support is seen as fundamental to the success of the school. They are encouraged to visit and consult with teachers on an informal basis at times of mutual convenience and there is also an annual formal consultation meeting between teachers and parents. There is an enthusiastic Parents’ Council whose opinion is valued when school policy is being formulated and when out of school activities such as field trips are undertaken. In addition, their collaboration is cultivated in the delivery of the reading and Mathematics programme and this is evidenced in their shared reading contributions and in their successful tutoring of junior classes as part of the Maths for Fun initiative
2.1 Resources for Science
Overall, the school is well resourced and the principal and staff are consistently adding to the stock of teaching materials and equipment. In respect of Science, the records show they have made a substantial investment in the procuring of equipment and materials, and the level of resourcing is adequate to support a high level of hands-on learning activities across the various strands. Among the many items on display are mini-beast viewers, magnets, lenses, magnifying glasses, percussion instruments, measuring cylinders, models of the human body and basic home-made circuit boards. In addition there are VCRs, CDs, computer programmes, attractive textbooks, illustrative charts and kits that are based on human and environmental themes. Of particular note is the digital camera which is used to effect in recording learning activities, and the children’s enthusiasm during questioning bears eloquent testimony to its clear success in raising motivational levels throughout the school. Appropriately, much of the equipment and materials is stored in a central location and teachers draw from this as the need arises.
The current Science co-ordinator was appointed to the position only at the beginning of the school year. She exhibits an admirable enthusiasm for her duties and has benefited from the advice of her predecessor. She is intent on developing Science on a systematic basis throughout the school and to this end will undertake a review of Science in collaboration with colleagues at the end of the school year. She and colleagues highlight the school’s immediate natural environment as a valuable resource for learning about Living Things. They undertake an environmental audit of the three major sections of the grounds on a seasonal basis and as part of the process they have regard for the convent garden. As part of this process, it is recommended that the potential of the garden be further exploited to embrace the cultivation of one small area in an initiative to further refine knowledge of plants and the life cycle in general.
Given the widespread recognition of teaching staff as a school’s most valuable resource, it is appropriate that teachers be accorded every facility to take advantage of in-career training initiatives that present from time to time. The principal readily recognises the importance of her staff’s engagement with outside agencies in furthering their knowledge and skills, and particularly so when the colleague in turn imparts the results of her learning to colleagues. One staff member who has a particular interest in the development of Science has attended the Discover Primary Science training run by Forfás. Classroom observation shows that she and colleagues with whom she has liaised have benefited significantly from the experience. Courses by other agencies, such as UCC, also have been attended and visiting experts such as zoologists have made a valued contribution. In addition, personnel from the DES-sponsored Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) have made a valuable and acknowledged contribution to staff’s capacity to deliver the Science programme. The overall impression is that of a principal and staff eager to develop their skills and knowledge so that they can provide a developing programme of work in a generous collaboration of mutually supportive colleagues and friends. For all of this the staff is worthy of high commendation and exhorted to continue in its determination to engage in processes leading to continuous improvement.
2.2 Resources for Mathematics
The purposeful teaching and learning of Mathematics is facilitated on a whole-school basis by the use of a wide variety of mathematical equipment as well as other teacher-constructed materials. The evidence available during the evaluation clearly indicates that use of these materials is well planned and is a regular feature of school work. Pupils’ enthusiasm for Mathematics is also nurtured through the imaginative use of centres of interest in each of the classrooms evaluated. Use of the local environment as well as Information Technology also contributes significantly to the promotion of this key aspect of the curriculum.
Varied approaches to the teaching and learning of Mathematics constitute a regular feature of school work both in relation to mainstream and special needs’ provision. It was agreed during the evaluation that aspects of these approaches which are used during tuition, such as linkages with other curricular areas, be further developed in the School Plan. The school has benefited significantly from its engagement with the support services. Such engagement will be further developed in the immediate future when a Mathematics Recovery programme will be drawn up on a collaborative basis.
3.1 Whole-school planning in Science
The school has prepared a school plan that is clear and concise and embraces the main areas of interest and concern that are central to the Science curriculum. Consultation leading to the current draft was completed in June 2005 and since then teachers have been refining their perspectives on Science. This will lead to a review and revision at the end of the current school year. The review will have particular regard for the work in higher classes where the Discovering Primary Science initiative is proving to be highly motivational, and it will also focus attention on the school’s determination to secure the state sponsored Award of Science Excellence.
In broad outline, the plan outlines the school’s vision that is characterised by an aspiration to develop pupils’ inquisitive nature in an enjoyable manner; the science programme and the principles that underpin it are outlined and specific reference is made to using pupils’ own perspectives as a starting point for the learning; key methodologies also feature and a premium is placed on practical investigation and linkage with the environment. In addition, important topics such as health and safety and assessment and liaison with parents and with local community are included. The document can be viewed as a valuable starting point for further planning and a useful tool in the development of a whole school perspective on the promotion of science throughout the school. To that end, it is recommended that in its end of year review staff will direct specific attention to refining the role of the co-ordinator as change agent and systematic promoter of continuity and progression from class to class. As part of the process, the practices underpinning arrangements for recording of progress could usefully be examined so that a greater measure of detail in the recording of progress will emerge.
3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics
Clear evidence was provided during the evaluation that an effective whole-school plan for Mathematics has been drawn up on a collaborative basis and has been ratified by the board. The plan was furnished in February 2005 and is due for review in December 2007. It is also noted that documentation from the support services has been utilised during this process.
The plan outlines the manner in which the curriculum will be covered in each class and ensures that due emphasis is placed on progression and development in the pupils’ knowledge and skills from class to class. It also indicates that an appropriate variety of methodologies is used during tuition and highlights the importance of problem-solving in practical contexts. It was agreed that high quality practice noted during the course of the evaluation be more fully documented in the plan, especially regarding staff development as related to Mathematics. The use of assessment data for formative purposes was also discussed in this context.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies 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). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
3.3 Classroom planning
The quality of classroom planning in Science and Mathematics is good at all class levels and teachers are worthy of commendation for their diligence in preparing short-term and long-term schemes of work that embrace all areas of the curriculum. The long-term planning in Science and Mathematics has as its starting point Primary School Curriculum (1999), and in every teacher’s plan there was a detailing of objectives, methodologies, and topics that are in accord with the Strand and Strand unit structure of the curriculum. A striking and commendable feature of all schemes of work is seen in the consistent attempt by teachers to integrate the work with English and History and Geography, the other areas of SESE.
In respect of short-term planning, teachers complete a school template that allows for a brief outline of topics to be undertaken. Clearly, this is useful but to an extent it is also confining in that it does not allow for the level of detail that stimulates creative reflection on learning outcomes. A simple redrafting of the template would make a significant difference in addressing this issue and it is recommended that the matter be included in the Science review.
Every teacher maintains a monthly record of topics covered so that appropriate levels of continuity and progression can be maintained. In general these documents are helpful in identifying the range and balance of activities undertaken. However, their value in providing useful information would be enhanced if they were amended to include some brief comment on levels of achievement. It is recommended that this issue might form part of staff’s deliberations when reviewing the curriculum provision for Science and Mathematics.
4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science
The school is working conscientiously to provide a broad and balanced Science programme and its efforts are characterised by a high level of success. The lessons observed were carefully prepared and presented in a well-paced, structured manner. The range and quality of equipment was appropriate, and apparatus and learning materials were used to effect. Throughout the school classrooms are bright and colourful and in general there is a wide range of illustrative materials on display that support the consolidation of the learning in all areas of the curriculum, including Science. Some of the most attractive displays focus on the Science learning and the children are enthusiastic in detailing how they approach the production of this work. Teachers make a commendable effort to involve all pupils, including those with special needs, in a process of lively oral interaction. A central feature of the learning is a praiseworthy emphasis on hand-on activity.
As part of this evaluation, either one or two sets of tasks were administered in five classrooms from infants to sixth class: where one set was administered the focus was on assessing the pupils’ conceptual knowledge, and in classrooms where two were administered the assessment centred on both conceptual and procedural knowledge.
In broad outline, the results reflect creditably on the work of the school. In respect of conceptual knowledge, the majority of pupils achieved mastery of the concepts tested in the three strands Living Things, Environmental Awareness and Care and Materials; and in the subsections of Energy and Forces almost all pupils reached mastery level. With regard to procedural knowledge, the pupils clearly experienced a higher level of challenge; nevertheless, almost all the senior class groups reached mastery level. In brief, arising from the assessment tests it appears that teachers need to focus on cultivating procedural knowledge to a greater degree and it is recommended that they do so in a collaborative and purposeful manner with due regard for concepts of fair testing and the skills involved in working scientifically that are highlighted in Section 1.5 of the school’s plan.
4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics
All staff members involved in the Mathematics evaluation engage in effective long-term and short-term planning bearing school contextual factors in mind. Accordingly, due attention is given to differentiation, breadth and balance and to linkage with other aspects of the curriculum during tuition. In addition, monthly progress records are carefully maintained in relation to teaching and learning.
The Mathematics lessons are well structured and in many instances the pupils work purposefully on a whole-class basis, within groups and individually as required. In this context the pupils are regularly encouraged to engage in meaningful discussion on a range of relevant topics.
Learning in Mathematics is monitored by means of observation, teacher-designed tests and on a formal basis through the use of standardised testing. The results of these tests are regularly used to inform planning as well as the class teaching that ensues. Arising from this, many pupils display a clear knowledge of number facts as well as an impressive ability to reason and estimate. They are trained to record their work neatly which is effectively monitored on a regular basis. Pupil mastery of the relevant strands and strand units is praiseworthy, as is the school’s stated target to improve performance by two percentage points.
4.3 Quality of support for pupils in Mathematics
The learning support and resource teachers, together with the school authorities generally, are to be commended for their efforts in ensuring that high quality provision is made to support pupils with learning difficulties or special educational needs. They are also to be commended for cultivating useful linkages with other relevant professionals regarding key aspects of this service. It is also noted that all relevant information is shared with staff members as required.
Policy in relation to provision for pupils with learning difficulties/special educational needs is in line with Circular 02/05. Accordingly, the tuition provided is both effective and relevant, bearing school contextual factors in mind. A range of successful early intervention strategies are in place and will shortly include the Mathematics Recovery programme. Individual Pupil Learning Plans (IPLPs) are carefully prepared in collaboration with class teachers, parents, the school principal and also with other relevant professionals and are reviewed at the end of term. Support for pupils is provided in a caring and professional manner.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the chairperson of the board of management, 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.