An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Name of School:
St. John the Baptist N.S., Lisronagh
Uimhir rolla: 06789H
Date of inspection: 21 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science undertook an evaluation of the teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and English in a sample of schools nationally.
This evaluation is the third in a series of thematic evaluations of aspects of the primary curriculum and is part of an ongoing review of curriculum implementation in primary schools. The purpose of this evaluation is to provide information on the extent of curriculum implementation in SPHE and English. The evaluation focuses on the teaching and learning in SPHE and English and on the quality of pupils’ achievement. This evaluation identifies and affirms good practice, and makes recommendations for teaching and the enhancement of pupils’ learning experiences and levels of achievement.
Two inspectors were involved in the evaluation in St. John the Baptist national school. The evaluation involved the 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 supplementary teaching in English. A school questionnaire was administered and interviews with the principal and class teachers were conducted. Pupils in senior classes and parents were invited to complete questionnaires with respect to issues related to SPHE. 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.
St. John the Baptist N.S. is situated in the small village of Lisronagh, which is on the main road between Clonmel and Fethard. It is a co-educational school with a current enrolment of 110. There is a teaching principal, three other class teachers, a learning support teacher and a resource teacher. The latter teachers are based in the school, but shared with other schools in the parish. The school has undergone major staff changes in the past fifteen months, with a staff changeover of 50%. The teachers are to be commended for their unity and shared sense of purpose considering such a high level of change. Their work in the school is supported by two full-time and one part-time special needs assistants (SNA’s) and a part-time secretary.
Funding has been agreed for a new extension to the school, which will see the building of three classrooms and a computer room. The existing building will be refurbished and modernised. The school is currently awaiting planning permission and it is hoped that builders will be on site in March 2008. Ground adjacent to the school was purchased as part of a joint venture by the board of management (BOM), parents and community. This land has been developed into a large playing field. Its value both in providing a school field and as a collaborative project cannot be underestimated and a great sense of pride in this achievement is evident and deserved.
The school and its environs are well maintained, clean and tidy. Two members of the Community carry out most of the general maintenance of the exterior of the school on a casual, voluntary basis and they are to be commended for their hard work. A school cleaner employed by the board of management cleans the inside of the school every evening.
There are a wide variety of materials available in the school to support the teaching of SPHE. These include the following programmes: Walk Tall, Stay Safe, Be Safe, Bí Folláin, Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), Busy Bodies, Healthy Eating Guidelines, Dental Health Kit and Equal Measures. Other resource books also support the work, including Circle Time resource books, Making the Links, Special Olympics pack and various posters and pictures. The teachers also avail of resources from the wider community to support teaching and learning. These include visits by a physiotherapist, fire safety officers, a dental hygienist and the Gardaí. The SPHE policy supports these visits by external agencies and they are carefully planned and monitored. A priority of future work in SPHE is to have more guest speakers visit the school.
The resources for English teaching are used effectively by the teachers to ensure variety and interest in the subject. The resources include both commercially produced and teacher designed charts, large format books and well stocked class libraries. In order to develop reading skills, the teachers blend judiciously work on class readers with work on other reading programmes, large format books and class novels. All this material is accessed easily by teachers in their classrooms. The learning support classroom is very well resourced and the teacher has built up a large volume of material over a number of years in this post. A full-time resource teacher has been appointed to the school recently and has started to develop a bank of resources for her pupils.
The SPHE plan was officially adopted as school policy in October 2003 and was reviewed in 2007. The expertise and best practice of the staff were applied in devising the plan and parents and BOM were afforded input opportunity. The plan was formulated to promote the all-round personal health and well being of the individual child and to help him/her to become an active and responsible citizen. It states clearly in the plan that a positive school environment is central to the work in SPHE. The key messages in the plan dealing with school climate and atmosphere are also included in a booklet devised by the staff for new families enrolling their children in the school. The delivery of the programme is over a two-year period and integration opportunities are highlighted in the plan so that SPHE permeates other curricular areas. The staff has devised a draft RSE policy and this includes content details for each class level. The school is currently in the process of setting up a new RSE committee that will discuss the draft, make recommendations and present it to the BOM for ratification. Many other organisational policies support the SPHE plan. These include policies on enrolment, substance use, gender equality, code of behaviour, anti-bullying, health and safety, healthy eating, yard supervision, critical incidents, administration of medicine, fieldwork, sports code of conduct and extra curricular sports activities. Overall it is a very useful document, which offers great guidance for classroom activity.
A similar template is used by all teachers for filling in their monthly reports and these provide clear details of the sections of the programme in SPHE which have been completed. All teachers maintain high quality yearly schemes and these contain aims, content, methodologies, resources, linkage and integration opportunities, strategies for differentiation and assessment. A common template is used for the fortnightly schemes that outline the work which will be undertaken in each classroom.
The overall school plan for English is comprehensive and it is clear that much time and effort has been spent putting the plan together. The sense of unity of purpose within the staff was very obvious during the evaluation as the whole school plan for the development of English writing was implemented throughout the school. In order to prepare the plan, the teachers met weekly after school to hammer out and agree consistent approaches to developing pupil skills in each of the writing genres mentioned in the curriculum. The teachers then agreed to work with all their classes on a particular genre for a specific part of the term thus ensuring all or most writing genres would be covered by the whole school in the course of the academic year. Whole school consistency is therefore assured. The implementation of this plan is definitely paying dividends as consistently high standards in writing were observed throughout the school. Once this process has become embedded, the school could move forward in English by developing and agreeing on similar planning approaches for poetry, phonics and class novels. The value of such agreed planning is that the school would have certainty when pupils leave that all pupils would have learned a minimum range of poetry, would have studied/read a minimum number of class novels and would have become familiar with basic English sounds for reading. It would be important of course that such a development by the school would not be so restrictive so as to remove all personal choice by the teachers.
There is a special duties post for English in the school and the teacher involved coordinates planning. This post also involves cataloguing of resources and the coordination of their purchase. The special duties roles are changed annually. It may be opportune to review this practice and to explore whether a longer tenure in a particular role might be wiser when a major review of policy is in train or being considered.
Individual teacher planning for English is based appropriately on the school plan. In the learning support and resource teaching contexts, the teachers are conscientious in their approach to planning and each teacher plans according to the needs of the pupils availing of the respective services. In both contexts there is laudable emphasis on liaising with mainstream class teachers to ensure that the work in both the resource and support rooms aids integration into the mainstream setting. This is achieved by mainstream class teachers giving the support teachers advanced notice of work that will be covered by the class. In the learning support context there is a greater emphasis on group support and therefore group plans are prepared, whereas the emphasis in resource setting is on the individual and therefore individual plans are maintained. In both contexts notes on progress are kept and in the case of learning support, these notes have been kept in the classroom for many years.
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.
4.1 Social Personal and Health Education
The quality of provision in SPHE was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching and learning, a review of samples of pupils’ work and interaction with the pupils in all four classrooms. Building positive relationships and the creation of a happy school environment are central to life in this school. The overall atmosphere in the school is child-friendly, welcoming and respectful. Pupils are well behaved and mannered and this contributes to the quality of leaning in the classrooms.
The quality of teaching and learning in SPHE is excellent throughout the school. All teachers have a discrete time set aside for SPHE and it is also cleverly integrated with other curricular areas to enhance the overall learning of the pupils in this area. All lessons were very well prepared and the teachers demonstrated their competence and abilities in conducting the lessons. Good use was made of equipment such as white boards, blackboards, flip charts and audio visual equipment. The teachers in the delivery of their lessons employed a variety of methodologies. These included talk and discussion, paired work, group work, circle time, audio visual work and whole class teaching. Teachers led very good discussions, which challenged the pupils and elicited responses from them. Pupils expressed their thoughts and ideas confidently while also showing respect for the ideas and opinions of others. Pupils were actively involved in their learning and showed interest and enthusiasm in the work. There was limited use of drama observed during lessons and this is a strategy, which could be expanded further. Attractive displays supporting the work in SPHE were evident in all classrooms and these included displays on, Our Five Senses, There’s no one quite like me booklets, Healthy Meal booklets, Identity Shields and Identity Collages.
At a whole school level, there are a number of features that make an important contribution to the overall implementation of the SPHE programme. These include the bringing together of the pupils to eat their lunches, the promotion of sports and games with many of the teachers involved in training teams, the close links created and maintained with the local sports club, a school newsletter, making contributions to the local papers about activities in the school and the organising of visits to libraries and museums.
It is worth noting that the excellent policy and careful and considered planning by the teachers facilitates the high quality of the lessons observed.
The quality of provision in English was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching and learning, a review of samples of pupils’ work, interaction with pupils in the four classrooms and in two support teaching settings. Overall, both the board of management and the parents can be assured that the teaching of English in this school is undertaken with laudable dedication, cooperation and planning on the part of the teachers. The board and the parents can also be assured that as a result of the input of the teachers in this area, the pupils are achieving high standards in all aspects of English.
In the teaching of writing, teachers follow the school plan by ensuring all pupils in the school are thoroughly familiar with the writing genres that have been studied and practised. Oral language lessons or activities precede writing sessions and brainstorming in groups work effectively. In addition, dictionaries and word-banks are used by pupils during writing sessions in the middle classes and this practice is further developed in the senior classes where pupils are introduced to the thesaurus. Charts that provide scaffolds for pupils’ writing were displayed prominently in classrooms. Scaffolds were also provided for pupils during individual writing sessions observed during the WSE. Habits such as neat presentation of written work are encouraged throughout the school. The pupils compile anthologies of poems and stories regularly in all classes and the print rich environment is a great help to younger writers in the infant/junior and middle classes. The quality of pupils’ work in these classes was noticeable in the variety of writing genres on display in classrooms which included narrative, recount, poetry, letters and recipes. Portfolios of writing samples are maintained by teachers and the compilation of class books of poetry, stories and diaries in the senior classes demonstrate praiseworthy achievement as pupils near the end of their primary school education. The combined results of the approaches applied in the school were that pupils wrote confidently, neatly and demonstrated high quality in the content of their work. Throughout the school, the teachers monitor pupils’ writing carefully and such monitoring enables pupils attain those high standards in penmanship and narration already mentioned. The use of the data projector adds further variety to approaches in some classes.
A love of reading is inculcated in this school from infant classes to sixth class. In the early years of school, carefully planned use of large format books and a variety of reading schemes ensure the enjoyment of reading and the teaching of the basic skills go hand in hand. In these classes, oral language development involving higher order questioning, sequencing/retelling activities in groups, phonological awareness and writing activities are all generated from large format books. This is very commendable practice. Shared reading involving parents begins in the infant classes and is further developed in the junior and middle years with programmes such as Children and Parents Enjoying Reading (CAPER) and Drop Everything and Read (DEAR). The well stocked libraries facilitate these approaches and teachers make very good use of Clonmel Library to supplement school resources. Despite the cramped conditions in the classrooms, the teachers are to be complimented for their use of group strategies in the teaching of English. In all classes, the teachers serialise novels by reading aloud to the pupils. All these approaches ensure that the teaching of reading is approached positively in this school and encouragement is the overall hallmark of approaches.
There is a high level of cooperation between the learning support teacher and the class teachers. The learning support teacher prepares pupils in advance for classroom tasks and therefore the ideal of helping pupils gain a sense of achievement from classroom work is realised. Most of the support given is in groups in the learning support room as the teacher is preparing pupils to undertake work that will be done in class. The teacher also works in the class with pupils. The teacher maintains a learning plan for each pupil. In a similar vein, the emphasis in the resource setting is to ensure that pupils have confidence when they are in the classroom setting. To this end the pupils follow definite programmes to develop both sight vocabulary and phonological awareness. In addition, pupils are prepared in advance for classroom reading tasks following consultation between class teachers and the resource teacher. This is good practice and is very beneficial for the self-esteem of these pupils when they encounter the prepared work in the mainstream setting.
The teachers have discussed at length the whole area of assessment in SPHE and the assessment section in the policy is detailed and supportive. Teacher observation, teacher designed tests and tasks, portfolios and projects and self assessment by children are outlined as the principle methods of assessment. To support the area of teacher assessment the teachers have devised, Teacher Observation Evaluation Sheets, to help them to keep a record of how pupils are progressing. Recording data from the evaluation sheets and the other methods of assessment contribute to the overall picture of a child’s development and can be used as a reference for the teachers when planning for SPHE and in communication with the child, parents, other teachers and the principal. The school is to be commended for its whole-school approach to assessment in SPHE.
Assessment is undertaken systematically in this school for English. At the end of junior infants, pupils are screened using the BIAP test and the MIST test is administered to senior infants in February. The school has therefore built up a picture of pupils’ abilities and learning needs before they embark on formal primary education in first class. In addition, an early intervention policy is applied in the school where the support teachers work with the infants’ classes in the second term of the school year and they work with the first and second classes during the third term. The Micra T test is applied from first class to sixth class. It would be beneficial for the school if the results from these tests were analysed and tracked on a whole school basis. Apart from formal testing and assessment, individual teachers track progress through portfolios of pupils’ work and through class tests.
The school has strengths in the following areas
The following are recommendations for future development
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science wishes to acknowledge the contributions made by the principal, teachers, pupils and the entire school community during the course of the evaluation. It is hoped that this report will assist the school in reviewing practice at school level and in identifying priorities for future development.