An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
St Mary’s BNS
Chapel Hill, Lucan, County Dublin
Uimhir rolla: 00714P
Date of inspection: 16 March 2007
Date of Issue of Report: 8 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.
Two inspectors were involved in the evaluation in St Mary’s BNS. 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
St Mary’s NS is an all-boys school, located in the centre of Lucan village in county Dublin. The school has an administrative principal, nineteen mainstream class teachers, a special needs team of five teachers and two language support teachers. There is a good combination of experienced and recently qualified teachers on the staff. At present the school caters for a total of 535 pupils. The school accepts the help that parents offer. Parents are encouraged to be involved in their children’s learning, for example, through homework.
2.1 Resources for Science
The school has a plentiful collection of resources including books, practical materials, audio-visual resources, photocopying and information and communications technology (ICT) equipment to support the teaching of Science. Each of the four curriculum strands is appropriately resourced. Science equipment is stored in the staff room. The science coordinator takes responsibility for the purchase and storage of equipment. Staff declare themselves very happy with the range and easy availability of science equipment.
Most classrooms are well organised and a range of stimulating and attractive posters, charts and photographic records of the children’s work are displayed. All classrooms host displays of seasonal flowers and bulbs. The school’s immediate environment provides a rich resource to support the implementation of the Living Things and the Environmental Awareness and Care strands of the curriculum. Efforts have been made to enhance the school grounds. Bird feeders have been placed outdoors, and the school garden is attractively laid out.
The school’s dedicated staff is its most valuable resource and management should seek to support and further develop this key asset. Individual members of staff have attended summer courses in Science. Opportunities for professional development in Science should be provided and attendance at courses should be encouraged and facilitated. A formal policy on staff development should be drafted and implemented. Having observed the good work that is taking place in Science in many classes and the potential for further development in the area, it is recommended that the school should consider participating in initiatives such as the Discover Primary Science, Steps to Engineering and the Lego Mindstorms programmes in order for the boys to showcase their work.
2.2 Resources for Mathematics
The school plan emphasises the importance of practical experiences in Mathematics using hands-on, exploratory approaches. The school has therefore continuously invested in an educationally valuable and carefully selected supply of structured and concrete mathematical materials at each class level to support activity-based strategies and methodologies.
A section of the display area in each classroom is devoted to providing a maths-rich environment and all classrooms have stimulating mathematical displays and illustrations with ICT being used effectively to enhance the quality of display. Number charts, measuring charts, number lines, hundred squares, fraction illustrations, clocks, number ladders, ordinal numbers, charts on decimals, percentages, angles and lines help to promote enthusiasm, curiosity and creativity in the children. It is recommended that an inventory of these resources be included in the school plan.
3.1 Whole-school planning in Science
Following action planning during the 2005-6 school year, a whole-school plan for the implementation of the Science curriculum in the school was prepared in June 2006. The plan includes a rationale, a vision for Science, the endorsement of the aims for Science as laid out in the Science curriculum as well as guidance on assessment, differentiation, and an outline of the contents of the school’s science programme.
In order to further develop Science it is recommended that the school should now consider availing of the Primary Curriculum Support Programme (PCSP) cuiditheoir service to assist in the review and revision process and to provide additional guidance on planning, implementing and personalising the curriculum. While the school plan states that the school is committed to making full use of its habitat and locality, a more structured approach to the use of the environment would facilitate the use and exploitation of the school’s grounds as a rich source for learning. An environmental audit to determine the potential of the school grounds in supporting work in the Living Things strand could be carried out. A plan linked to seasonal change could then be developed for each class level to enable pupils to observe and investigate changes in their local environment through a series of science trails. The section of the plan that deals with safety needs to be reviewed urgently and all teachers made aware of the safety implications of any exploratory or investigative work to be undertaken. Reorganisation of the content section of the plan will provide clarity for teachers at various class levels.
As the profile of the pupil population changes to include more international children, the school should also consider drafting a policy on interculturalism incorporating the good practice already established in the school of meeting the language needs of these children in Science and Mathematics as well as in the other curricular areas.
3.2 Whole-school planning in Mathematics
A whole school plan for the implementation of the Mathematics curriculum has been developed collaboratively by the teaching staff. The importance of establishing consistency in the application of whole school approaches to the teaching of significant aspects of the subject area has been considered and highlighted. The plan also outlines the school’s aims and the rationale underpinning the teaching of Mathematics and provides useful guidance on the application of key activity-based strategies and methodologies. Common approaches to the use of mathematical language and terminology are included in an effort to ensure consistency and continuity throughout the school. The plan correctly places emphasis on the development of the children’s mental mathematics skills as well as on the cultivation of problem-solving and estimation skills. Reference is also made to the variety of assessment approaches to be employed.
The plan is due to be reviewed in June 2007. It is recommended that responsibility for this curricular area and its review and development should form part of the responsibility of one post-holder rather than persisting with the present shared arrangement, and that the reviewed plan should be ratified by the board of management. It is also recommended that the review would include an examination of the potential of the school’s own environment in supporting curriculum implementation, particularly the development of mathematical trails.
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
All teachers are committed to long-term and short-term planning. In most classes long-term planning is detailed, relates closely to the school plan and carefully reflects the structures of the curriculum. However, in some classes, where planning does not take account of the school plan, there is evidence of repetition and of revisiting work done previously. Variance in practice throughout the school with regard to short-term planning is noted. In the majority of classes short-term planning is based on the strands and strand units of the curriculum and there is effective delivery of a broad and balanced programme in line with the principles of the curriculum. In those classes, clear learning objectives are identified and there is correct emphasis on skill development. Scientific and mathematical language, modes of assessment and differentiation strategies are included and the teaching methodologies to be used are outlined. This is characteristic of good practice and it is recommended that this practice should be emulated by all teachers and that a more suitable template should be drawn up which includes expected learning outcomes and an appropriate emphasis on the development of skills. Tasks should also be differentiated and closely matched to pupils’ learning needs.
Monthly records are maintained. However, in their current form, the monthly records do not take account of the balance between the acquisition of knowledge and skills which is an intrinsic part of the Science curriculum. It is recommended that the approach to the monthly recording of Science be reviewed. This should also contribute significantly to ensuring that there is continuity and progression as the children advance from class to class.
4.1 Quality of learning and teaching in Science
Most classrooms provide a stimulating environment for learning. All classrooms have displays of scientific charts and posters and nature tables with displays of seasonal bulbs and flowers. In many classrooms samples of the children’s work are attractively displayed alongside photographic evidence of activities. In a few classrooms wonderful displays were observed.
Overall, teachers use a good range of teaching approaches and children work in whole class settings as well as in groups and pairs. The teachers use a good range of materials and resources in the presentation of lessons. Instructions are clear and the children are encouraged to listen and to respond appropriately. In most classes a wide range of questions is employed to stimulate thinking. Cross-curricular integration with other subjects is good, particularly in English and in Visual Arts, and is used to effectively reinforce and promote the learning.
The behaviour of pupils in all classrooms and around the school is very good. In all classes, standards of literacy are high. Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) support children with special educational needs. Language support teachers work alongside class teachers in some instances to support those children for whom English is not their first language. Good emphasis is placed on the development of language in science lessons. It is recommended that this practice be extended in order to further develop and refine pupils’ vocabularies. In most classes there is a good balance between practical and theoretical work and the children are provided with opportunities to record their work. Further emphasis on allowing the children in middle and senior classes to record their findings in their own words should now be considered. More extensive use of open-ended investigations will allow pupils to pursue a number of lines of enquiry and will encourage them to make decisions about how to do investigations.
There is evidence of good work in the area of Designing and Making. Appropriate materials are provided and the pupils undertake the practical work in pairs and groups. Children present their work in this area confidently and knowledgeably. Consideration should now be given to providing further opportunities for children to present such work to other classes in the school, to parents and to interested members of the school community. A high level of awareness is evident in relation to energy conservation and recycling and the school will soon apply to An Taisce for its environmental Green Flag.
Individual teachers use a range of assessment modes to monitor pupil progress in Science. Teacher observation and teacher-designed tests and tasks are the most frequently used forms of assessment. All children keep records of work done in copybooks or folders. Photographic records are maintained in some classes and some children keep nature diaries. The school should now consider drafting a whole school policy on assessment which incorporates the good work already being done and which will further assist in assessing progress, identifying difficulties, communicating to the pupils and parents and in planning further learning.
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 most of the pupils displayed mastery of the concepts tested in the strand units Myself and in Human Life while less than half demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Plant and Animal Life. In Materials, almost all of the pupils mastered the concepts tested in both Properties and Characteristics of Materials and Materials and Change. In the Environmental Awareness and Care strand, less than half the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in the three strand units. In Energy and Forces, the majority of pupils demonstrated mastery of the concept tested in Light. Fewer than half demonstrated mastery of the concepts tested in Electricity and Magnetism and in Sound. A small number demonstrated mastery of the concept tested in Heat and none of the pupils demonstrated mastery of the concept tested in Forces.
The second set of tasks was used to assess the pupils’ procedural knowledge. Most of the junior pupils displayed mastery of the knowledge and skills required by the task. Fewer than half of the pupils in the middle classes mastered the objectives tested while most of the senior pupils displayed mastery.
Pupils enjoy science lessons and they are very positively disposed towards Science. In order to further contribute to this positive experience it is recommended that a greater balance is achieved between practical and theoretical work in all classes and that as children progress through the classes they are allowed greater autonomy in planning and conducting investigations and in deciding how to record results and findings. Further emphasis on intended learning outcomes in planning which are based on curriculum objectives will focus teaching further, thus enhancing provision.
4.2 Quality of learning and teaching in Mathematics
Observation of classroom practice reveals that the Mathematics curriculum is being implemented effectively. A commercial mathematics scheme is used judiciously to support teaching and learning and a variety of supplementary textbooks and other resources are also employed. The school’s range of mathematical resources is utilised effectively and many teachers also devise their own materials and visual displays to support the programme. Appropriate maths-rich environments are created in the majority of classrooms.
Lessons are skilfully paced and are well taught. Efforts to relate Mathematics to realistic everyday experiences are proving successful and pupils are confident in their treatment of problem-solving tasks. Practical and activity methods are used extensively in clarifying the various concepts and in ensuring that they are explored in a logical and developmental manner. Appropriate emphasis is placed on the teaching and use of correct mathematical language. Clear visual examples are used to explain concepts and comprehensive oral activity is used effectively in most classes to develop pupils’ understanding. While whole-class teaching and demonstration is the predominant methodology, some good samples of small group activities and one-to-one teaching were observed. At some class levels, group teaching is used effectively with learning activities differentiated and matched to pupils’ abilities. It is recommended that this practice be further expanded in order to meet the needs of individual pupils throughout the school.
Pupils display a particularly high level of attainment in terms of the learning outcomes to be achieved. It is clear that this attainment is the result of a consistently high standard of teaching, supported by a thoughtful level of reflection on the part of the teachers in relation to the implementation of curriculum objectives. Pupils at infant and junior levels have a good understanding of the properties of number appropriate to their age level. The understanding of number operations is extended at a pace to suit pupils’ abilities as they progress through the school and their overall standard of mental mathematics is high. In general, pupils display a good understanding of mathematical concepts and an ability to apply them to solving real-life problems. The children’s problem-solving skills, both in groups and as individuals, are very good.
Pupils at all levels demonstrate very good computational skills and can engage confidently in a range of computational operations. Tables and algorithms are revised regularly. Awareness of Shape and space, Measures, Algebra and Data is sequentially developed from class to class, and, in general, pupils’ accurate and confident use of correct vocabulary and terminology when discussing mathematical topics and explaining processes is commendable. Pupils’ written work in Mathematics is presented neatly and the work is monitored carefully at every level of the school.
The overall standard of pupil attainment in Mathematics across the school is generally high as evidenced by the scores of standardised mathematics tests which are administered annually. The results are carefully documented and are used to inform planning and to address weaknesses identified in pupil performances.
4.3 Quality of support for pupils in MathematicsThe special educational needs team consists of five teachers, one of whom has responsibility for the provision of learning support to 59 pupils who are experiencing difficulties in Mathematics. Of these, only 11 pupils are categorised as functioning at or below the 12th percentile, 32 are functioning above this level and 16 are untested.
The learning-support room is bright and sufficiently spacious. Because it also functions as the central resource storage area for the school’s mathematics equipment it is well-equipped and a stimulating range of manipulatives and materials is easily accessible and is used effectively. Support is delivered on a group-withdrawal basis. Praise and positive reinforcement are used as a constructive feature to motivate pupils’ sense of achievement and confidence. The learning support teacher visits classrooms regularly to discuss the progress of particular pupils, to discuss topics and concepts to be taught in the immediate future and to suggest available resources and teaching methodologies and approaches which might be employed. Particular attention is devoted to first class where the class teacher and the support teacher engage in team-teaching of an intensive programme of drill and practise in the establishment of appropriate number operations procedures.
The Drumcondra Primary Mathematics Standardised test is administered to pupils from first to sixth class each year and textbook checklists and teacher-designed tests are used for both formative and summative pupil assessment. Test results are analysed in detail, teachers’ observations are considered and specific targeted teaching and learning activities are put in place to address weaknesses identified in pupil performances. Individual Pupil Learning Programmes (IPLP) are devised in consultation with the class teachers for pupils in the low incidence category and profiles are kept to monitor pupil progress.
It is recommended that the current provision for learning support and resource teaching in Mathematics in the school should be reorganised as a matter of urgency. Supplementary teaching should be targeted at the lowest-achieving pupils in the school with those pupils who are performing at or below the 12th percentile being given priority. The support teacher’s caseload should be brought into line with the recommendations contained in the Learning-Support Guidelines. The principle of early intervention should underpin the school’s policy on learning support and the use of a wide range of test instruments is recommended for this purpose. It is also recommended that the responsibility for learning support in Mathematics be spread more evenly across the special education team.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Staff and students are to be congratulated for the work done to date on preparing the school’s application for Green Flag status.
· An extensive range of resources is available and is used effectively to enhance the teaching and learning in Science and Mathematics.
· The behaviour of the pupils in the classrooms and throughout the school, as observed during the course of this evaluation, is very good.
· Literacy standards are high and the children present their work in both subject areas confidently and articulately. Their ability to perform computational, reasoning and problem-solving tasks in Mathematics and to explain mathematical and scientific processes rationally and accurately is very good.
· Pupils display a particularly high level of attainment in Mathematics.
· The system of in-class support for children whose first language is not English, operates very effectively.
· A very positive attitude to Science and Mathematics has been generated in the pupils throughout the school.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The curricular responsibilities of post-holders need to be reviewed and extended, and, in particular, the post of responsibility for Mathematics needs to be rationalised.
· The current provision for learning support and resource teaching in Mathematics in the school should be reorganised as a matter of urgency.
· The school plan should include a more structured approach to the use of the environment which would facilitate the use and exploitation of the school’s grounds as a rich source for learning in both Science and Mathematics.
· The school should engage the services of the PCSP cuiditheoirí to assist with further planning and implementation of Mathematics and Science.
· The safety statement contained in the school plan for Science needs to be reviewed urgently.
· The school should consider participating in initiatives such as the Discover Primary Science, Steps to Engineering and the Lego Mindstorms programmes.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
School applied for PCSP cuiditheoirí last year but nobody was available. The words “urgently” and “matter of urgency” used in the report were not necessary. There was a suggestion in the report that “repetition and revisiting work already done” is not good practice
“Repetitio est mater studiorum”
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
Copy of inventory of maths resources now in school plan. Learning support in maths has been reorganised. Steps to participate in Discovery Primary Science are being taken. An environment audit is being carried out and the assistance of a cuiditheoir has been sought. Safety aspect of school plan for science has been sought. Safety aspect of school plan for science has been strengthened.