An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Saint Clare’s National School
Kenmare, County Kerry
Uimhir rolla: 08320L
Date of inspection: 9 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
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. 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 St. Clare’s 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.
St Clare’s girls’ national school was founded in 1861 and has been associated with the Sisters of St. Clare throughout the years. The first lay principal was appointed in 2002. There are seven different nationalities represented in the school’s enrolment of 150 pupils at present. The modern building now in use dates from 1983 and is adjacent to the boys’ school named after St. Francis. The two schools are to be amalgamated and a new building is planned to be situated in the field to the rear of the existing schools. With the presence nearby of a post-primary school, the public road and car parking areas are busy especially at peak times of the school day. There are bus and special access provisions at the front of the school.
At present the school has a significant difficulty as regards accommodation. Having qualified for developing school status under the regulations of the Department of Education and Science, the school was able to make an appointment of an additional mainstream class teacher with effect from January 2007. This relieved pressure on class numbers and permitted the division of a group that had 37 pupils. However, with this development there is considerable strain on the existing accommodation. The school now has six mainstream classes, a learning support teacher, a language support teacher, a part-time resource teacher and two special needs assistants. There are six mainstream classrooms, a general purpose room, a small staff room and an office as well as a few limited storage areas. A small space was created for the learning support work while the staff room serves also for certain teaching work. Having regard to the range of additional provision for children and the type of equipment that the school has to help cater for special needs, it is apparent that there is a substantial need for more space for various aspects of work in the school. The staff shows imagination and flexibility in managing the present accommodation shortfall. It is hoped to erect a prefabricated classroom in the near future and this should help to relieve the situation reasonably well.
The board of management meets regularly and provides for the needs of the school in a timely and responsible manner. The chairperson visits the school frequently and keeps in close touch with its day to day business. The school is well stocked and maintained and the classrooms and circulation areas are kept bright and clean. The grounds outside are especially attractive and very well kept in collaboration with the pupils. The school has a supportive parents’ association that functions well and provides assistance to the school in notable and beneficial ways that include helping with the organisation of sports days and book fairs, and the provision of board games and school jerseys.
The school is a very attractive location for the children. Inside, the classrooms are bright and appealing with many stimulating and educational features. The classrooms are very well ordered and organised. Pupil work is placed on display both inside the classrooms and in the corridor areas and the overall standard of display is high. The general purpose room has attractive features displayed while various items of equipment are kept for physical education and various other aspects of school work. The school has an integrated system for data projection and TV and DVD viewing and this permits whole school participation in certain programme items. Outside, there are some very attractive features in the surrounding grounds. These include a basketball court, a football field, a spacious hard court play area and an area designated for senior pupils for Gaelic football. There is a stone circle modelled on a local archaeological feature at the front of the school and this has seating suitable for children. Other features include a bird table, large flower pots for planted bulbs, pathway flower beds tended by the senior children, a compost bin, a wormery, fire assembly points and flagpole.
The school participates in sports and community events. These include Cumann na mBunscol Gaelic football, indoor hurling, volleyball, handwriting competitions, construction challenges and quizzes. There is a palpable spirit of cooperation and collaboration in the school and this has many benefits for the pupils and the general school community.
The school makes very good provision for the teaching of SPHE and English. A wide array of programme material and handbooks is stocked in the school to assist in the work in SPHE. These include Stay Safe, Walk Tall, Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) material in addition to many other items. Worksheets, posters, videos and DVDs, teacher prepared charts, equipment, classroom features, pupil work and displays are among the main elements used for the lessons in SPHE. All the classrooms feature an area that is devoted to SPHE topics and issues though these are not generally labelled as SPHE corners. It is suggested that labels might be used and that the words social, personal and health education might be used more commonly in general discourse especially in the middle and senior classes. The classrooms all feature sets of rules and these have been drawn up in consultation with the children themselves. These are commendable and the pupils show ready knowledge of their classroom and school rules and the overall expectations the school has for them. From time to time the local community supplies guest speakers as for example the fire brigade, the garda and Health Service Executive personnel.
A variety of resources is available in the school and is used appropriately to improve the quality of teaching and learning in English. All classrooms have attractive displays of charts and posters and particular emphasis is placed on creating a print-rich environment. Pupils’ work is celebrated in attractive classroom and corridor displays. The infant classrooms are appropriately equipped with a plentiful supply of pre-reading learning materials. In general, classroom libraries are generously stocked with a good variety of books and a wide range of reference material. While supplementary readers are also provided to promote pupils’ independent reading, it is suggested that additional reading material be made available particularly in the junior classes. A wide range of equipment and resources has been acquired to support pupils with special educational needs. These resources are used in a most productive manner. Overall, resources are effectively employed to support pupils’ active engagement in the learning process.
It is apparent that the school has committed time and effort to planning and coordinating its overall work in the curriculum generally and in SPHE and English in particular. Notable overall features of the school’s planning include the provision of a small handbook for parents in which is set out the school’s mission statement, organisational details, school sports and activities, homework policy, code of discipline, school rules, bullying policies and many other helpful details about the school’s operation. The school also maintains a homework journal that assists home-school communication and support. The monthly newsletter gives practical and valuable information to parents about aspects of the school’s work.
Aims, objectives and strategies for SPHE are set out with careful regard for the principles of the Primary School Curriculum. Detailed policies for RSE, substance misuse, child protection, bullying, health and safety, medicines, and bereavement are among the aspects covered. The plan includes an overview of content of lessons for SPHE over a two-year period. Teaching methodologies and approaches are usefully described while assessment aspects are also covered in the plan. Overall, the plan is an appropriate and suitable guide for what happens in the school in the various elements of SPHE. The teachers individually prepare their own planning material for their particular classes and in general this is suitably linked to the overall plan of the school. In addition, there is a notable degree of coordination and collaboration among the teachers in respect of particular topics with the avoidance of duplication and overlap.
An element of particular merit is the school’s general approach to the Green School movement. This is carefully planned and involves the pupils in a multi-faceted programme of daily and occasional activities all of which have very significant benefits for the pupils individually and collectively. An action plan for the year has been formulated and this is displayed prominently. Linked as it is to environmental awareness and appreciation, the pupils have many opportunities for social and personal development by means of practical activities such as working together, understanding contemporary patterns, taking responsibility and contributing to whole school responses to particular issues. The school is engaged in composting, recycling, reducing waste and energy conservation. For example, individual pupils assist by acting as monitors in ensuring that lights are switched off when not needed, that doors are closed to conserve heat and that taps are turned off to eliminate wastage of water. Different classes take on responsibilities for litter gathering and for managing the composter and the wormery. Many interesting initiatives have been taken to promote knowledge and learning in this area and the school and its staff are to be commended for the manner in which this has been accomplished. The leadership given in this facet of school business is most creditable.
A comprehensive whole-school plan has been devised for the English programme through the collaborative activity of the principal and staff. The key principles of the curriculum are embraced and implemented successfully through the endeavours of the teachers. The plan outlines the content objectives for each class level under the strands of oral, reading and writing while a variety of approaches and methodologies are also listed. A clear delineation of content ensures continuity and progression throughout the school and provides teachers with specific guidelines for classroom planning. Oral language, reading and writing are integrated in a coherent language process. Teachers prepare long-term and short-term schemes of work to ensure that pupils experience a diverse range of learning activities. In most instances commercial planners are used in the preparation of short-term plans while teachers devise their own individual long-term programmes. Monthly progress records are also maintained consistently. The staff are to be commended for their work in the area of whole-school planning for English.
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.
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 each of the mainstream classrooms. All of the classrooms feature areas where work in SPHE is located and items such as class rules, book compilations of pupils’ work, worksheets, posters, group features and concept maps are commonly found in these focal points. Safety aspects for home, for the road and for play are among the prominent aspects developed in the school. Friends and other people are given suitable emphasis while taking care of the body and health are accorded regular prominence. Patterns of growth and change are included in the work. Health promotion is given practical emphasis and the children in all classes are familiar with the healthy lunch policy that is a feature of the school. The formal lessons are very well structured and presented. The teachers generally are clear and precise in what they intend to accomplish and a suitable mix of methodologies is the norm in the school. The teachers allocate some of the discretionary time to SPHE so that the pupils get between forty-five minutes and an hour per week for this aspect of the curriculum.
In the infant classes, circle time is capably arranged using the general purpose area to permit action and movement as necessary. The pupils work in pairs and groups. Stories and topics are introduced with skill and clarity. Discussion and talk are availed of to explain and to tease out particular themes. The pupils are very well trained to listen and to participate. Every pupil is given opportunities to present and to speak while very good training in participating is provided. Pupils discuss and show elements of their work with confidence. Pupils are fluent and willing in explaining aspects of work already featured as for example their letters posted in a class post-box or their illustrations of friends and family members. In the junior classes, the children are able to discuss healthy lunch worksheets that have been bound into small booklets. The pupils reveal good knowledge of topics studied and there is a good degree of participation in lesson activity. Throughout the school it is apparent that there is excellent provision for pupils with particular needs and there is a great sense of inclusiveness in class and school activities. In the middle classes, the pupils receive very good training in habits of work and application. Activities are very well matched to pupils’ interests and features such as interviewing of older family members, conducting surveys of healthy lunches throughout the school, maintaining copy work for SPHE, teamwork activities, all combine to provide a stimulating and successful programme of work. In the senior classes, the pupils are challenged and engaged by their lessons. Photographs, collages, summary charts and features on particular topics reveal a broad and interesting programme and the senior pupils discuss their lessons knowledgeably and precisely. The pupils demonstrate good ability in group tasks and they can discuss and form group judgements on new topics.
While the overall work of the school is successful and well managed, it is suggested that the third strand of the SPHE curriculum, Myself and the wider world, might be given more prominent treatment so that aspects such as developing citizenship and media education might be developed further during the two-year cycle of implementation. Also it is recommended that oral presentation aspects by the pupils might be further emphasised in order that their skills and fluency in elaborating and describing might be extended and practised.
The quality of provision in English was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching and learning, a review of samples of pupils’ work and interaction with the pupils in the six mainstream classroom and in two of the support teaching settings. Standardized test results were also examined. An appropriate balance between whole-class teaching and group work is maintained and opportunities are provided for pupils to participate in paired work, cooperative groups, independent learning and project work. Effective teaching methodologies, including brainstorming, games, poetry, story and drama, are employed productively. Lessons are well-structured, paced and developed. In general, the content of lessons is suitably chosen for the age and range of ability of pupils.
Oral language activity permeates every aspect of the English curriculum and is used to maximise the development of the pupils’ comprehension, reader response and writing skills through integrated and thematic approaches. A structured oral language scheme is being implemented throughout the school with particular emphasis on vocabulary enrichment. Further use of approaches, such as talk, discussion, debates and language games would provide greater opportunities for pupils to develop their communication skills and to utilise the new vocabulary acquired in a communicative context. Pupils are exposed to a breadth and variety of poetry and they engage actively in the lessons by reciting a range of rhymes and poems clearly and with expression.
Reading skills are developed through a range of approaches and the employment of various strategies including silent reading and a reading buddies system. The school organises book fairs, poetry readings and visits to the local library. These activities foster a positive reading culture throughout the school. A well-structured emergent reader programme is employed. Big books, picture books and story-time are imaginatively used to foster collaborative reading and develop an awareness of various aspects of the reading process. A phonological and phonemic awareness programme is systematically taught throughout the school. Reading texts used include a graded reading scheme, class novels, library books and a shared reading programme. Productive exploration of a range of texts and novels effectively develops pupils’ critical and analytical abilities. Most reading lessons observed placed considerable emphasis on word recognition and the use of newly identified words in correct contexts. While this is a positive feature of a reading lesson attention should also be directed to providing further opportunities for pupils to read for pleasure and enjoyment. This approach would consolidate the existing provision and enhance pupil enjoyment.
A good balance is achieved between functional and creative writing at all class levels. Pupils are given the opportunity to write for a variety of purposes and in a range of genres using an age-appropriate register of language. Pupils’ copies indicate that a great deal of worthwhile writing activity takes place in the school. Daily news, book reviews, poetry and stories are in evidence. From an early age pupils are enabled to compose simple sentences independently and engage in a variety of workbook activities. Older pupils display a growing elaboration and sophistication in the use of sentence structures when writing. Process writing features positively in some classrooms and should be extended to all classrooms to further enhance pupils’ skills of drafting and editing. Teachers guide the choice of topics for writing and provide opportunities for the exploration of ideas and thoughts. Pupils are enabled to develop a command of the conventions of grammar and spelling and these aspects are monitored carefully by teachers. Letter formation and handwriting skills are keenly developed in junior classes. Pupils observe the conventions of writing at all levels and achieve high standards of penmanship and presentation of work. The success of pupils in handwriting competitions both locally and nationally celebrates further the pupils’ commendable penmanship skills.
The system of support for pupils with special educational needs operates on a withdrawal basis whereby pupils are taken either individually or in small groups from classes for focused tuition. The learning support teacher implements an early intervention programme with particular emphasis on the development of phonological awareness. Detailed individual educational plans (IEP) have been devised for each pupil in receipt of support. The learning targets identified in the individual plans are based on the pupils’ prioritised learning needs. The clarity of both the learning targets and the teaching and learning approaches to be employed is noteworthy as is the consultation engaged in with pupils, parents and class teachers in their development. Teachers engage in comprehensive short-term planning and recording of pupils’ progress. Lessons for pupils with special educational needs are well designed and clearly linked to the learning targets devised, while also being mindful of pupils’ individual areas of interest. A variety of teaching methodologies is employed in meeting the special educational needs of these pupils. Pupils’ progress is reviewed at suitable intervals during the school year. The interactions observed with the pupils receiving support teaching were very affirming, encouraging and of a very high quality.
A number of foreign national pupils whose home language is not English attend the school. Focused additional support in English is provided for 14 pupils by a language teacher who is shared with the neighbouring boys’ school. All staff members demonstrate great sensitivity to the cultural needs of these pupils and a commitment to their integration in the school. Pupils are withdrawn for support teaching aimed at developing their English language proficiency. A well-structured and integrated language programme is organised in a very effective manner. Detailed and informative plans of work are prepared. Pupil progress is monitored by the consistent use of records of attainment. These records are utilised creatively to determine the learning needs of pupils. Resources are deployed appropriately to support the language programme. Pupils are actively involved in the learning process and they are making considerable progress in accordance with their own competencies and abilities.
The plan lists teacher observation, teacher-designed tasks and tests, and portfolios and projects as among the ways that work in SPHE may be assessed. It is apparent that there is a considerable body of tasks and worksheets, portfolio material, compilations of pupils’ work, scrapbooks, as well as copy work in some instances for SPHE throughout the school. All of this material is valuable to assist in the assessment of SPHE. The teachers are au fait with individual pupils’ progress and capacity and indeed, the teachers have excellent insight into their pupils’ overall development and progression in SPHE. There is need however for a more formal tracking of pupil progress in this aspect of work. It is recommended that the school should seek to formalise its procedures for keeping account of progress at certain intervals in the year so that there may be a systematic recording of each child’s success in selected aspects of work in SPHE.
Formal testing is conducted using such instruments as the Drumcondra Reading Standardized Test, Schonell, Aston Index, Pat Programme and the Middle Infants Screening Test (MIST) which are complemented by teacher observation, checklists, teacher-designed tasks and careful monitoring of pupils written work. A range of diagnostic tests is administered to assess individual pupils with special educational needs. Results are discussed with appropriate staff members with a view to targeting areas of need and particular emphasis is placed on tracking the achievement levels of these pupils. Formal testing in the senior infant class is used to identify pupils presenting with learning difficulties and this system of early screening is commendable. While staff do not provide parents with an annual written report of their children’s progress, they give an oral report at parent-teacher meetings. While results of standardized tests are recorded and maintained accurately, it is recommended that greater emphasis should be placed on the role of assessment in order to track pupil progress from year to year in all aspects of the English curriculum.
It is apparent that St Clare’s NS succeeds very well in creating a positive environment where the pupils have splendid opportunities for learning and making progress in their work at school. The overall arrangements governing the operation of the school support the work of the teachers in their classes. The staff implements its plans in SPHE and English in a methodical and graduated manner and it is apparent that the school is very successful in its overall achievement in teaching and learning. There is a high degree of collaboration and teamwork to be found among all members of staff and the pupils benefit fully from the teaching and learning experiences that are provided for them. With a view to the further development of the school the following recommendations are made in respect of SPHE and English:
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.