An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:

Social, Personal and Health Education and English

2007

 

Evaluation Report

REPORT

 

St Brigid’s National School

Killester, Dublin 5

Uimhir rolla:  16792C

 

Date of inspection:  22 November 2007

 

 

 

 

Introduction

School background and context

Provision and use of resources in SPHE and English

Quality of whole school planning in SPHE and English

Quality of teaching and learning in SPHE and English

Quality of assessment in SPHE and English

Future development of SPHE and English

Conclusion

 

 

 

Introduction

 

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 school 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 Brigid’s 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 structured interviews with the principal and class teachers were conducted. Senior pupils and parents were invited to complete questionnaires with respect to issues related to SPHE. Drawing on the evaluations undertaken in the schools nationally, the Inspectorate will publish a composite report on the quality of teaching and learning of SPHE in primary schools. Data from the questionnaires will be aggregated for the composite report. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.

 

  

1. School background and context

 

St Brigid’s National School is under the patronage of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and is led by an administrative principal. The present principal was appointed to the position in September 2007. The school’s mission statement is well expressed and aspires to the development of pupils who are thinking, reflective, critical and independent-minded people. In addition to the sixteen classroom teachers, the school also has the services of an education-support team. This support team comprises two full-time teachers and one part-time teacher who assist pupils with identified learning needs. A special needs assistant supports individual pupils within mainstream classes. The current enrolment of 428 pupils represents a small decrease in enrolments over recent years. Pupil attendance levels are generally good. 

  

 

2.   Provision and use of resources in SPHE and English

 

2.1 Social, Personal and Health Education

The main resources used for the teaching and learning of SPHE are externally produced schemes of work. These schemes provide teachers with ideas and materials to address the strands and strand units of the SPHE curriculum. Although a range of resources is identified in these schemes, a review of teachers’ monthly records suggests that the full range of these resources is not being availed of by every teacher. The school benefits from its association with the Northside Partnership as a source of in-service provision. The school links with Dublin City University to develop the pupils’ awareness of educational opportunities available at third level. In many classes, pupils’ work is well displayed. Pupils’ work is also well displayed in corridor spaces with the effect of creating a stimulating and affirming learning environment for pupils.

 

2.2 English

A wide range of appropriate resources is available in the school, and in general these are well used to support the delivery of the English curriculum. The well-stocked school and class libraries are utilised effectively to promote reading for pleasure. In addition to class readers, a number of graded reading schemes are used effectively to develop pupils’ early reading skills. The development of literacy skills is further promoted through the use of novels in the middle and senior classes. In infant and junior classes large format books, word-walls, captions, labels and charts support the development of word recognition and comprehension skills. Writing workshops have been facilitated by local authors and some pupils have participated in the Puskin Award Scheme. A dedicated computer room provides a facility for furthering literacy skills and there is evidence that some use is made of ICT to present pupils’ personal writing. To ensure the effective use of the full range of resources available in the school, an audit of resources might focus on the potential of specific resources in supporting teaching and learning in English at each class level.

 

 

3. Quality of whole school planning in SPHE and English

 

3.1 Social, Personal and Health Education

The quality of whole-school planning in SPHE is generally satisfactory. The main focus of the plan is on identifying the principles underpinning the teaching of SPHE in the school. The plan also clarifies the practice with regard to the teaching of the relationships and sexuality education programme in the school. There is a lack of detail, however, regarding objectives, content, methodologies and assessment strategies that would assist teachers in devising their own individual work plans. While it is stated in the plan that links are forged between SPHE and other curriculum areas, there is a need to identify and state clearly what is required of teachers in making this connection. These issues should be addressed in order to provide for the full implementation of the SPHE curriculum throughout the school on a systematic basis and to ensure continuity and progression in pupils’ learning.

 

All teachers provide long-term and short-term schemes of work for SPHE. There is scope to develop the quality of classroom planning however. Individual teachers’ plans and monthly progress records reveal that SPHE lessons are not consistently taught by all teachers, with the result that the full implementation of the SPHE curriculum is not being realised in all classes. Delineating long-term plans into time-bound units will facilitate the delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum, while the clarification of learning outcomes in short-term plans will ensure that lessons are focused on the development of specific skills and the acquisition of specific knowledge and concepts.

 

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 (DLP) and a designated DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines.

 

3.2 English

The school plan for English was drawn up in 2004 and is due to be reviewed during the current school year. While the plan requires to be updated, it is generally of a good quality. The principles and approaches recommended in the Primary School Curriculum (1999) underpin the plan. In addition to outlining the content to be taught at the various class levels, methodologies to support the implementation of the curriculum are outlined. Useful handouts that assist teachers in planning learning activities are included in the plan. A phonics programme has been developed that provides for progression in pupils’ learning. The teaching of handwriting skills at each infant and junior class level is clearly outlined.

 

A review of existing practice in all classes across all the strands of the curriculum would assist in identifying effective strategies that could usefully be disseminated among all teachers. This review should focus on agreeing whole-school approaches to practices that include the regularity with which pupils engage in personal writing activities, the matching of reading material to pupils’ levels of ability, the use of ICT as a learning tool, the provision of a print-rich environment, oral language development through play, provision for discrete oral language lessons, assessment for learning and the development of pupils’ independent learning and research skills. Clarification of whole-school approaches and practices will guide teachers in developing their own individual work programmes. An action plan should be drawn up to monitor the implementation of the revised plan for English.

 

The learning support policy requires review in order to take account of changes that have taken place in terms of resources and practices in the school. The rationale for the models of delivery of supplementary teaching should be stated. In particular, the roles of both the class teacher and the support teacher when working together in mainstream classrooms need to be clarified. The role of parents in developing and reviewing individual learning plans should also be clarified. Criteria for the selection and discontinuation of pupils receiving supplementary support could be more explicitly stated.

 

All teachers provide both long-term and short-term schemes of work and maintain a record of content that has been taught. The approaches used in the curriculum inform teachers’ planning and content is identified under strands and strand units. Some plans provide very clear evidence of progression in the learning programme during the year and clarify activities to be undertaken and specific skills to be developed. In general, however, plans are based on the content in textbooks with little provision for differentiated learning tasks. It is recommended that classroom planning takes account of the expected learning outcomes for pupils at different ability levels, and identifies strategies that enable differentiated learning that meets the needs of all pupils. Clarifying the rational for maintaining a progress record (cuntas míosúil) should inform the type of document that is used.

  

 

4. Quality of teaching and learning in SPHE and English

 

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 seven of the mainstream classrooms.

 

The quality of SPHE as experienced by the pupils through their lived experience in the school is very good. This lived experience encompasses how the pupils are treated and the type and range of learning experiences provided for them. These experiences include participation in charitable activities such as the shoe-box appeal, an annual retreat for pupils in sixth class, the Rainbows Programme, regular school tours, after-school basketball and chess training and the drawing up of a sports code of practice for pupils.

 

In terms of the lessons observed, the quality of teaching and learning in SPHE is good. All lessons were well prepared and well resourced. There was a commendable emphasis on pro-actively seeking the involvement of all pupils. A range of organisational settings and methodologies was used to generally good effect. These included whole class discussion, pair work, group work, circle time, role play and reflection/visualisation exercises. These methodologies and settings were complemented by the compilation of a food diary and the review of television advertisements.  Where lessons were very effective, clear and appropriate learning objectives were clarified and consideration had been given to precisely how these learning objectives would be achieved.  In these lessons, questioning of pupils was used very effectively to teach and consolidate the lesson objective. In some lessons, there is scope for development particularly in terms of identifying appropriate and clear learning objectives and clarifying the methodologies to be used. In all observed lessons there was an appropriate and affirmative teacher-pupil relationship.  Systems for managing pupil behaviour and routines for the smooth-running of the classroom contribute to the creation of a well-ordered learning environment.

 

A focus group interview with six pupils from sixth class indicates that the pupils have a good understanding of both the content and skills involved in SPHE. They particularly enjoy the active methodologies that are employed.

 

Post-holders on the in-school management team report that teachers send activities completed by pupils home to be discussed with their parents. Examples of such activities were observed both in terms of work completed by pupils and the letters sent to parents to explain the relevant lessons. In the best practice observed pupils’ work was accompanied by a synopsis of what the pupils had learnt and parents were asked to comment on their child’s learning. The value of ensuring that this practice is implemented systematically within the school is further highlighted by the response of parents of pupils in sixth class to a questionnaire designed to gather their opinions regarding the teaching and learning in SPHE in the school. Whilst parents’ comments were largely favourable, some responses indicated a lack of familiarity regarding how aspects of the SPHE curriculum are implemented in the school and how certain issues, particularly bullying, are dealt with.

 

4.2 English

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 pupils in eight of the mainstream classrooms and in two supplementary teaching settings.

 

Very effective teaching was observed in many classrooms during activities across the strands of the curriculum. Where best practice was observed, lessons were very well structured, activities were integrated and linked with specific learning objectives and pupils were fully engaged in learning throughout the lessons. In general, lessons were well prepared and good use was made of a range of suitable resources. Team-teaching by support teachers and class teachers provided opportunities for less able pupils to engage with their peers in whole-class activities. Basic literacy skills are well taught throughout the school and pupils’ attainments in all language skills are of a good standard, with many pupils achieving high standards in various aspects of the curriculum.

 

In general pupils’ oral language skills were well developed during discrete elements of lessons. The most effective practice took place where the teacher had identified the specific language or skill to be taught. Effective development of higher-order thinking skills was observed during discussion of reading material and in the preparation for writing tasks. Evidence from teachers’ planning shows that pupils in senior classes regularly engage in debates. Pupils in all classes were articulate and spoke confidently in an age-appropriate manner. Effective use was made of poetry as a stimulus for developing pupils’ emotional response to text and their cognitive abilities through language. Also, excellent practice in relation to extending pupils’ vocabulary during discussion of poetry was observed. A good selection of poems is taught in all classes and pupils enjoy reciting them. While good resources were prepared for word games, maximum benefit was not always derived from these activities because objectives had not been clarified in advance and materials were not linked with pupils’ reading ability and previous language experiences. In some instances oral language activities lacked focus and the opportunity to develop pupils’ language skills was not exploited. There was little evidence of sustained shared talking during play activities in infant and junior classes. To further develop pupils’ oral language skills, discrete oral language activities need to be well structured and have a clearly stated learning objective. Opportunities for developing pupils’ language through play in infant and junior classes should be central to the learning programme in those classes.

 

Early reading skills are well taught in infant and junior classes. The school plan for phonics is effectively implemented and pupils display good phonological and phonemic awareness. The practice of support teachers working alongside class teachers is an effective way of intervening to reduce learning difficulties at a later stage. A wide range of strategies is used effectively to develop pupils’ sight vocabulary. These include the use of flash-cards and, composing simple stories based on words previously learned. To develop pupils’ independent working skills consideration might be given to using a variety of games to reinforce what has been taught.

 

Significant attention is paid to ensuring that all pupils’ reading is monitored regularly and reading records on individual pupils are maintained. Excellent development of individual pupils’ reading was noted through the use of a graded series of books in infant and junior classes.  Effective practice in relation to exploring text and guiding discussion through the use of good questioning strategies was also observed. In general, whole-class teaching is employed during reading activities throughout the school. In view of the range of reading abilities in classes, reading material needs to be more closely matched to pupils’ abilities, particularly in middle and senior classes, to ensure that all pupils engage with text that is appropriately challenging.  Group work should be used regularly to allow pupils to work both independently and collaboratively using a range of strategies that promote the development of language through reading. While pupils in general read fluently further attention is required in some classes to the structured development of reading skills. Pupils are encouraged to read for pleasure through the use of strategies like CAPER (Children and parents enjoying reading) and DEAR (Drop everything and read).

 

Penmanship skills are taught effectively and adherence to the whole-school plan for teaching handwriting ensures skills are developed progressively. Very high standards of penmanship were noted throughout the school. Writing conventions and grammar are taught in context and pupils’ functional writing skills are good. In some classes however opportunities to reinforce the spelling of frequently used words could be provided through mini-lessons, through the display of word walls or through examining spellings in the context of dictated sentences that include frequently used words.

 

The impulse to write is fostered from an early age and the practice of daily free-writing in infant and junior classes is commendable. Teacher-modelling is used effectively to develop early writing skills. The writing process is used to develop personal writing skills and pupils engage in brainstorming and in planning prior to undertaking creative writing tasks. Pupils’ imaginative abilities are developed through the use of good stimuli, and class discussion that assist with developing ideas. The overall quality of personal writing is good, with some exceptional work in evidence throughout the school. It is reported that pupils have participated in a write-a-book project and have shared their work with their peers and with pupils in other classes. Participation in the Puskin Award Scheme has provided pupils with opportunities to share their writing with a wider audience. Pupils’ work is celebrated through display in all classrooms. In some classes information and communication technology (ICT) is used by pupils to edit and present their writing. Writing activities observed in some classes, however, were not sufficiently challenging for pupils. A whole-school approach to the development of personal writing should be agreed, focusing on the regularity with which pupils write, the range of genres to which they are exposed, the audiences for which they write and the supports provided for them during writing activities.

 

In the provision of supplementary support a good balance is achieved between in-class support and the withdrawal of pupils as groups or individuals. Where in-class support is given, the role of both teachers needs to be clearly established, to ensure that maximum benefit is derived from the services of both teachers. Learning needs are identified following assessment, using a range of diagnostic tests, and individual learning plans are prepared for all pupils availing of supplementary support. Clear learning targets are identified for each of the two instructional terms in the year. Lessons are carefully planned and records of pupils’ progress are suitably maintained. Very good practice was observed during discrete lessons where language skills were developed through a range of effective strategies. Pupils very actively engaged in learning and clearly enjoyed the challenge of the work. Good focus was placed during activities on developing pupils’ receptive and expressive language skills, higher-order thinking-skills and social skills. Particular attention was paid to developing pupils’ self-confidence and self-esteem. Supplementary support is closely linked with the work being done in classrooms and there is evidence of regular dialogue between support teachers and class teachers regarding the progress of individual pupils.

 

  

5. Quality of assessment in SPHE and English

 

5.1 Social, Personal and Health Education

Assessment in SPHE is mainly informal and incidental through teacher observation of pupils during class and during break-times. SPHE activities completed by pupils are retained in exercise books or folders. There is scope to develop the extent to which this work and the pupils’ learning in SPHE generally are being assessed against the specific objectives of the SPHE curriculum. As a means of achieving this, it was suggested that teachers work in class level groups to identify from the objectives in the curriculum a checklist of behaviours, values, attitudes they believe it would be reasonable to expect pupils to have acquired by the end of that class level. Preparing such a checklist would assist teachers to internalise the essence of the curriculum objectives thereby ensuring that these objectives permeate the full range of the curriculum and not just the SPHE lesson. This checklist will also provide teachers with a basis for focused discussion with parents and will provide the pupils with a basis for evaluating their own learning in SPHE.

 

5.2 English

A suitable range of assessment tools is used to evaluate pupils’ progress in English. These include teacher observation, teacher-devised tests and tasks, standardised tests, screening tests and diagnostic tests. Teachers monitor pupils’ written work carefully and some very effective monitoring was noted where constructive and supportive comments had been written by the teacher. Some very effective use of teacher-devised tasks was observed, where it was evident that outcomes had informed planning for future learning. While records of some assessment outcomes are maintained consideration could be given to ways in which individual pupils’ attainments, according to specific criteria, might be used to match learning activities to individual pupils’ learning needs. Support teachers use outcome of a range of tests to identify specific learning needs and strengths.

 

 

6. Future development of SPHE and English

 

6.1 Social, Personal and Health Education

 

  • A review of the school plan should be undertaken to ensure that SPHE is taught on a systematic basis in all classes and encompasses the full range of the curriculum.
  • In individual teachers’ planning greater attention needs to be focused on setting appropriate and clear learning objectives for lessons and greater consideration needs to be given to how concepts can best be acquired by pupils.
  • The effective practice of annotating pupil activities sent home for discussion with parents in order to optimise pupils’ learning should be extended throughout the school.
  • In order to track pupils’ progress in SPHE it is suggested that the school develop age-appropriate checklists which encapsulate the full range of the SPHE objectives.

 

6.2 English

  • Discrete oral language activities need to be well structured and have a clearly stated learning objective. Opportunities for developing pupils’ language through play in infant and junior classes should be central to the learning programme in those classes.
  • It is recommended that classroom planning takes account of the expected learning outcomes for pupils at different ability levels, and identifies strategies that enable differentiated learning that meets the needs of all pupils.
  • Reading material needs to be more closely matched to pupils’ abilities, particularly in the middle and senior classes, and group work should be used regularly to allow for the development of both collaborative and independent working skills and the development of pupils’ language through reading.
  • A whole-school approach to the development of personal writing should be agreed, focusing on the regularity with which pupils write, the range of genres to which they are exposed, the audiences for which they write and the supports provided for them during writing activities.

 

  

Conclusion

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 SPHE will serve as a valuable reference at system level and will inform the further development of policy and provision for the teaching of SPHE.

 

Táthar fíorbhuíoch d’fhoireann na scoile as a gcuid tacaíochta le linn na hoibre seo.

 

 

 

 

Published November 2008