An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Carrigboy National School
Durrus, Bantry, County Cork
Date of inspection: 16 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education 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 Carrigboy 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.
Carrigboy NS or SN an Charraigbhuí is situated in the village of Durrus about 10 kilometres from the town of Bantry in West Cork. The school has a teaching principal, three other mainstream class teachers, a learning support teacher who is shared with two other schools, and two other part-time support teachers. The school also has the services of a full-time special needs assistant as well as a part-time secretary. The school caters for the needs of some 56 families with an enrolment of 104 pupils.
Originally built in 1914, the school was extended and renovated in 1987 and it now has three spacious classrooms, a staff room, and a learning support room. A circulation area that has ten doors and three corridor walkways providing internal access to classrooms and staff room is now used as a classroom for the senior classes. A converted store is used to provide a dedicated learning support room. A small porch at the entrance is used as a computer room. The staff room is used as an office and several filing cabinets and the school photocopier are stored there. Fortunately the school has the use of the community hall that has been renovated and refurbished in collaboration with the school authorities. A special store has been erected for the school’s physical education equipment and a spacious green area gives excellent scope for games. A hard court area in addition to a newly resurfaced basketball court provides good space for play and for recreation. Compost bins on concrete plinths are placed conveniently. A special store has been erected to provide for equipment for a mothers and toddlers group that makes use of the school and hall facilities.
The school has a serious accommodation difficulty particularly as regards the senior classes. The area being used by this group is not adequate in terms of space or suitability for its purpose. The school awaits a response to its application for inclusion in the devolved grant scheme for major capital works. The school does not have a suitable space for a car park at present and this is a factor to be taken into account also in any future development at the school. It might be advisable perhaps, in the interests of safety, to extend the fencing over the low wall at the entrance to the school.
The school is well kept and maintained. It is apparent that every effort is made to make maximum use of the facilities. The chairperson of the board of management visits the school regularly and it is evident that the board discharges its responsibilities with care and consideration. It is apparent that the best interests of the pupils are kept firmly in view in all the business of the school.
In this school there is a good array of material provided to assist in the teaching of Social, Personal and Health Education. Resources and materials from the Stay Safe, Walk Tall and Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programmes are used freely in the school. A broad range of DVD and video material in addition to charts, models, teachers’ books and additional readers are available to the pupils in various ways. School text materials from the series What a Wonderful World and Earthlink are availed of to supplement lessons while on certain occasions, people such as the local garda or the green school officer visit the school. Flipcharts are used sometimes while pupils’ own work and other features are put on display.
A variety of resources is available in the school and is used appropriately to improve the quality of teaching and learning in English. Each classroom has some suitable charts, posters and teacher-designed visual aids which contribute to the creation of a pleasant learning environment. Commercial materials, including a range of software, have also been purchased to support curricular delivery. The infant classroom is resourced with a plentiful supply of basic language and pre-reading learning materials. In all classrooms there is a wide-range of good quality library books that is regularly supplemented by newly published materials. Parallel readers, large format books, factual and reference library books are also accessible to pupils. It is noted that the quantity of workbooks in use in some classrooms has a negative impact on teaching and learning and should be reviewed. Photographic records of school activities and events provide an interesting stimulus for oral language work and for pupils’ personal writing. The regular use of information and communication technology (ICT) including the digital camera greatly enhances the delivery of the programme. Overall, resources are effectively employed to support pupils’ active engagement in the learning process.
A comprehensive plan has been devised for Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) for the school and a two-year cycle is intended with particular strands being covered in each year. A positive school climate is seen as an initial starting point for all work in SPHE with discrete time provided for lesson work and integration with other aspects of study also intended. The plan outlines a variety of approaches and methodologies to be used for SPHE while a variety of strategies is listed for assessment. The school has an RSE policy to be covered as part of the SPHE programme and a steering committee developed the parameters for this policy several years ago. Sensitive issues are dealt with in collaboration with the assistance of Health Service Executive personnel. Several aspects of the overall School Plan are linked to the SPHE provision and these include health and safety policy, substance use, health promotion, litter prevention, green school programme, school rules and attendance. The school’s mission statement, code of behaviour and discipline, procedures for bullying, policy for homework, policy for home-school links, provide support for the operation of the whole school in an efficient and smooth manner. The school makes use of material provided by the Primary Curriculum Support Programme though it could adapt some of the material more specifically for use in the school.
A whole-school plan for English is well documented. The policy was completed and ratified by the board of management in October 2006. It is the intention of staff to formally review this policy in 2009. There is evidence that Department of Education and Science (DES) policy and material from the support services such as School Development Planning Service and Primary Curriculum Support Programme inform the planning process.
In general, the whole-school plan guides the teaching and learning in classrooms. The curricular plan outlines the strands and content objectives appropriate for each class level coupled with clear guidelines for its implementation. Other aspects of the plan such as the development of phonological and phonemic awareness, handwriting, poetry, the use of large books and the novel, merit further review to ensure the delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum. It is suggested that greater emphasis be placed on the implementation of the plan to ensure continuity and progression throughout the school.
Teachers prepare long-term and short-term schemes of work to ensure that pupils experience a diverse range of learning activities. The quality of classroom planning varies. All teachers use a yearbook for teacher planning and record keeping. Some teachers have found it necessary to supplement this yearbook with additional planning documentation. It is recommended that the existing resources for planning be reviewed and consideration be given to the provision of guidelines in the whole-school plan for individual classroom planning. These guidelines would ensure that the aims of the curricular area are realised in a systematic manner throughout the school and that progression and continuity of content and teaching methodologies would be addressed effectively. Monthly progress records are maintained consistently by teachers. An extended use of these records would contribute to the review of the implementation of the curriculum at different class levels.
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 and a deputy have 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 the four mainstream classrooms in addition to a review of school documentation and planning. It is apparent that Carrigboy NS fosters a positive school climate and that the pupils are given careful and methodical training in habits of behaviour and good conduct. Discipline is carefully managed and the pupils display confidence and assurance in their interactions with each other and with their teachers. The pupils devote effort and commitment to their lessons and seek to give of their best in their work generally. There is a high degree of respect in evidence among the pupils for themselves and for others. There is a welcoming atmosphere in evidence in the school and this has many benefits for the pupils and especially for those who are new to the school.
The formal lessons are presented with skill and with confidence. The pupils are engaged suitably with questions and with appropriate linkage to previous topics. Good use is made of equipment and learning aids while whiteboards, blackboards and flipcharts are used commonly to assist learning and teaching. Pictures and posters are displayed to good effect in all the classrooms and on occasions certain topics are featured with summary charts and display material. Photographs in albums, in scrapbooks and on wall displays lend special interest and enhanced meaning to particular aspects of study. In the infant classes, the pupils receive beneficial training in circle time activities with imaginative use made of the pupils’ own cushions to assist classroom routine. Roll call in Irish is skilfully used to assist learning while co-operative games with pupils working in pairs are creatively exploited for pupil development. In the junior classes, equipment and stories are used to suitable effect and work pages are availed of to consolidate aspects of the work. For example, pages from Starways and What a Wonderful World are used to practise certain points of knowledge. However, work pages such as these and others seem to be too commonly relied on as key features of work in the school generally. In the middle classes, the lessons are linked valuably to elements of science and nature while the pupils display good knowledge of particular items that they have studied. The pupils discuss their lessons with confidence and understanding. The senior classes listen and participate very well in their formal lessons. Occasionally the pupils individually develop particular projects that provide scope for imaginative effort. This might be extended to include group projects from time to time with opportunities for collaborative effort among the pupils. The senior pupils reveal good knowledge and understanding of topics such as the European Union. All the classes respond well to tasks and topics set for them. The planning material provided by the Primary Curriculum Support Programme is availed of by most of the teachers and by the school generally.
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 positive emphasis placed on attendance, the promotion of the green school programme with an emphasis on composting and recycling, the promotion of sports and games through, for example, the Cork City Sports and Sciath na Scol, and the participation of the school in mini sevens, in poetry and art competitions, and in similar activities. The school promotes participation in the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association and virtually all the pupils in the senior classes take part in pioneer activities. The school is to be commended in particular for its commitment to charitable appeals with a notable degree of fundraising devoted to particular causes. These include a Bóthar scheme whereby five goats were sent to a third world country, a Lenten campaign that part-funded a teacher’s temporary social work in Nairobi and another Lenten campaign that part-funded the visit of a teacher in the school to Capetown, South Africa as part of the Niall Mellon Township Trust scheme to build houses. Many elements of these projects were managed in an imaginative manner with the enthusiastic support of the pupils. The school has produced attractive features including photographs and explanatory pieces to celebrate these initiatives. It seems apparent that the school and its staff are approachable to parents and others in the community. Another notable feature of the school is its Christmas concert and craft fair arranged in the week prior to the holiday break. It appears that the parents and school community give the strongest support to the school in its endeavours in these activities.
Although the school gives prominence to the work in SPHE, there is a sense in which the planning of the work in general might be further developed with a view to deepening the achievement in this area. A more varied methodology with more activity based learning and greater group activities and participation would broaden the pupils’ experience in SPHE. A more specific list of topics to be developed in the two-year cycle might also benefit the school to ensure that particular strand units receive attention. Classrooms would benefit from a specific area or corner dedicated to SPHE topics such as classroom rules, safety matters, community and citizenship aspects, media studies and suchlike. These areas could also be used to display pupils’ work, compilations on particular topics and other features. This would assist the school to implement its plan and would assist also for assessment purposes.
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 mainstream classrooms and in two of the support teaching settings. In the delivery of the English programme, a good range of teaching methodologies was noted including whole class teaching and group work based on class divisions. Lessons, in general, are well structured, paced and developed and include appropriate learning strategies. Some of the work observed was carefully integrated with experiences in other areas of the curriculum.
Appropriate attention is paid to the development of pupils’ oral language skills which are taught through discrete oral language lessons, through integration across the curriculum areas and through reading and writing processes. Language experience charts and a structured oral language programme are used prudently in some classrooms to promote pupils’ oral language competence. A concerted effort is being made to focus on the oral language development of pupils in junior infants where a significant number of pupils present with oral language difficulties. Teachers engage the pupils in discussion on topics drawn from the different curricular areas and pupils, in general, respond enthusiastically. This is particularly evident in the middle and senior classes where pupils are growing in competence to present and support arguments. Higher order thinking skills are being actively developed and most pupils speak articulately. The inclusion and development of specific themes in planning documents would further strengthen oral language development for all pupils and would provide for consistency in terms of approach and progression. It is, therefore, recommended that a common approach to oral language development be adopted in all classes and this should be linked closely to the content objectives for oral language as outlined in the plan for English.
Emergent reading skills are developed gainfully in the junior classes. The Jolly phonics programme is used purposefully to develop phonological and phonemic awareness and pupils are exposed to an environment that is rich in print and in text. A level of uncertainty is noted in other classes with regard to the school’s phonological programme. It is recommended that a detailed phonological and phonemic awareness programme be agreed and implemented in a systematic way throughout the school. A repertoire of poems is taught and pupils are encouraged to respond in different ways through dramatising, writing and comparing poems. A commendable emphasis is placed on learning poetry in most classrooms and pupils recite a range of suitable poems with clarity and expression.
At infant level pupils acquire a useful sight vocabulary. While structured reading scheme texts are used towards the end of the school year in junior infants, supplementary readers from published schemes form the core of the reading programme. This is supplemented by the use of large format books and language experience charts. In the middle and senior classes, a variety of approaches to the teaching of reading is employed and these include the reading of a suitable range of novels. The systematic development of reading skills throughout the school would greatly augment a reading culture. Regular promotion of library book reading is a feature in most classrooms and worthy of extension to all classrooms. A shared reading buddy system has been established in the school involving all classes. Teachers report that this approach encourages pupils at all levels to read. Shared reading initiatives involving parents are also undertaken in the infant classes. An examination of reading scores achieved in standardized tests shows that, in general, pupils are experiencing a good level of success.
Pupils engage in both functional and creative writing. Teachers guide the choice of topics in which pupils write and provide opportunities for them to explore ideas and thoughts. Pupils write in an age-appropriate register of language and in general observe the conventions of grammar, punctuation and spelling in their writing. High frequency words from the pupils’ sight vocabulary are displayed in some classrooms. However, there is little evidence in the classrooms of writing areas and displays of pupils’ written work. The language experience approach should be further used for the creation of individual or class books. It is recommended that pupils in all classes be given further opportunities to write independently on a regular basis and for a variety of purposes. It is also necessary to expose pupils to the writing process which will further enhance their skills of drafting and editing. Pupils in the middle and senior classes engage productively in project work where emphasis is placed on the development of research skills and good presentation techniques. In general good handwriting is a positive feature of all classrooms and the presentation of pupils’ written work is creditable.
The quality of provision for pupils with special educational needs is highly commendable. Detailed plans are prepared based on the identified needs of individual pupils in consultation with class teachers, parents and outside agencies. Individualised, structured and purposeful teaching strategies are adapted appropriately and suitable resources are deployed to support learning. Pupils are making good progress in accordance with their own competencies and abilities. However, it is suggested that a more systematic approach to detailing the progress of individual pupils and the achievement of their learning targets be employed. In most instances pupils are withdrawn either individually or in small groups for support education. The learning support teacher also works capably in collaboration with class teachers in their classrooms on selected topics as part of the early intervention programme. This commendable practice could be extended to all classrooms. Consideration might also be given to the provision of an intensive, structured oral language programme to augment the oral language development of pupils in infant classes. This may necessitate the deployment of support teachers to meet the needs of these pupils.
The plan for SPHE lists teacher observation, teacher-designed tests and tasks, portfolios and projects and children’s self-assessment as the means by which progress will be assessed. Teacher observation and samples of pupils’ work, especially work pages completed and stored in pupils’ folders, are among the main mechanisms by which teachers keep track of pupils’ progress in SPHE. The teachers are very well acquainted with individual pupil progress and they display a close familiarity with pupils’ strengths and abilities. It is recommended that the school should formalise its procedures somewhat more in order to give effect to the mechanisms for assessment to ensure that periodic records are maintained with regard to progress in SPHE. This would assist the school to keep better account of individual progress generally and also in relation to particular facets of the overall programme.
Assessment tools employed by the staff to monitor pupil progress in English include teacher observation, checklists, work samples, teacher-designed tasks, diagnostic tests and standardised literacy tests. Results of formal and informal testing are systematically maintained to assist in the identification of pupils for supplementary teaching. Oral language development is assessed informally by each class teacher. Given the difficulties that some pupils are experiencing in the development of their oral language competence consideration might be given to developing an observation framework for the assessment of oral English in the school particularly in the junior classes. Middle Infant Screening Test is administered in Senior Infants during the second term while Micra-T tests are administered annually to all classes by the learning support teacher. As a further development of assessment procedures, the school might usefully direct attention to amending its recording arrangements so that scores in standardized tests for each class are available in one easily accessible document. This would facilitate the plotting of trends and the creation of a whole-school perspective on pupil achievement in literacy. Parents are informed of their children’s achievement during annual parent-teacher meetings and in annual progress report forms.
Carrigboy NS in accordance with its mission statement promotes the full and harmonious development of the children and succeeds very well in the provision of an appropriate education for the pupils. The principal, the teachers and the ancillary staff provide a supportive and caring environment that has positive and strong links with the local community. A number of themes for the future development of the school have been identified and these include:
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.