An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Holy Rosary GNS
Date of inspection: 15 November 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.
Two inspectors were involved in the evaluation in Holy Rosary 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; a response was not received from the board.
The Holy Rosary Girls National School is situated in the parish of Wicklow and Rathnew and provides education for girls in the Wicklow town area. There were 448 pupils enrolled at the time of this evaluation. The main school building was officially opened in 1950 and was further extended with an additional building in 1977. The more recent building, called “Bethlehem”, accommodates the classes from junior infants to second class, and classes from third to sixth are accommodated in the main school building. Members of the Dominican Order act as trustees of the Holy Rosary School which endeavours to symbolise the ethos and values of the order. The school is under the patronage of the Archbishop of the Diocese of Dublin. The school sets high expectations for its pupils in relation to their school work, behaviour and attendance. The school information booklet states that the Holy Rosary School strives to be a community dedicated to excellence and discipline where the pupils feel secure, experience the joy of learning and know that they are valued. The school views education as a process by which pupils become life-long learners who take responsibility for themselves, others and the world around them. The school aims to be open and inclusive and to work in collaboration with parents. The principal and staff are highly conscientious and committed in their work of carrying out the mission of the school.
Staffing consists of an administrative principal and sixteen class teachers, one special class teacher, two learning support teachers, two resource teachers for pupils with low incidence special educational needs, one resource teacher for children of the Travelling community, one home-school-community liaison co-ordinator and one language support teacher. The school has three special needs assistants who are conscientious in meeting the special care needs of particular pupils. The effective administration of the school is assisted by a full-time school secretary. A school caretaker employed under the 1978 scheme and two part-time housekeepers play an essential role in the maintenance and upkeep of the general school environment.
Children from a wide variety of backgrounds attend the Holy Rosary School. The school receives support through the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme and also receives funding through the School Completion Programme (SCP). Judicious and conscientious use is made of all funding provided. An impressive range of programmes, initiatives and links with external agencies are undertaken in relation to pupils who require additional supports with their education.
The board of management actively supports the work of the school and meets regularly in carrying out its responsibilities. The strong commitment of the board is evident through the degree of involvement of the board members in the work undertaken on behalf of the school community. The board of management is commended for its dedicated work on behalf of the school. The school also has the support of an active parents’ association which provides a wide range of assistance and support with school activities, outings, special occasions and events, and with fundraising. The Holy Rosary School co-operates closely with St. Patrick’s Boys’ NS in the town as both schools serve the same families.
Across the Holy Rosary School the promotion of the pupils’ self-esteem is a shared goal among the staff. The school endeavours to be responsive to the voice and needs of the pupils and positive and respectful relationships were observed between teachers and pupils and among pupils themselves during the course of the evaluation.
It is evident through the attention afforded and the resources acquired to support SPHE and English that these subjects are regarded as core elements of the curriculum provision of this school. The successful implementation of these areas of the curriculum is supported through the ethos, structures and organisational arrangements that are in evidence across the school. The teachers have attended the nationally delivered in-service training for the implementation of the Primary School Curriculum and they are facilitated in sharing new approaches, methodologies and materials with colleagues both formally and informally. The services of the School Development Planning Service and the Cuiditheoirí service have been successfully employed by the school in addressing and developing curricular and organisational areas. Careful consideration is given to the deployment of teaching staff across mainstream, special education and support settings. A system is in place to facilitate the rotation of teaching positions. While this generally facilitates teachers in gaining experience in teaching across a range of settings in the school, it is recommended that as far as practicable all teachers are enabled and supported in gaining experience of teaching in a variety of mainstream classroom, special education and support settings, on an ongoing basis.
The acting principal is highly committed, conscientious and effective in her leadership and management of the school. Organisational, curricular and pastoral dimensions of the work of the school are attended to in a thoughtful, considered and highly competent manner. The principal is ably supported in her role, by a dynamic deputy principal and middle management team who are proactive in addressing the broad range of current and emerging school organisational, curricular and pastoral issues. Individual teachers throughout the school demonstrate high levels of professionalism in their work and are willing and enabled to take initiatives which contribute to the development of the broader school programme. The arrangements that have been put in place to support and mentor newly appointed staff are very effective and praiseworthy, and a good sense of professional collegiality among the staff is in evidence.
The school accommodation, classrooms, hall, circulation areas, foyers, offices and ancillary areas are all clean, bright and welcoming and are maintained to a very high standard. The work of the pupils in the Visual Arts, English, Irish, Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE), SPHE and thematic projects, is widely and attractively displayed in the classrooms and circulation areas of the school. Some areas of the playground have been carefully painted and marked to encourage and facilitate the pupils’ involvement in outdoor games. The safe and attractive upkeep of the school buildings, grounds and playground areas, mostly comprising of tarmacadam and some grassy areas, is commendable. Excellent use is made of the accommodation areas available to the school. Some classrooms and support teaching settings are of restricted size. In a number of the smaller classrooms, the limited physical space may restrict the possibilities of the use of active learning methodologies and group activities. In the context of the existing needs of the school and the changing demography of the school catchment area, a review of the current and emerging accommodation needs of the school should be undertaken.
A comprehensive range of teaching materials and resource books is available to support teachers in their implementation of the SPHE programme. These resources include the Stay Safe programme, the Walk Tall programme, the Relationships and Sexuality Education programme, Alive-O, Bí Folláin, the Be Safe programme, the Primary Movement programme, Outside the Box materials, anatomically correct dolls, the Earthlinks series and Making the Links guide. Visual materials, both commercial and teacher-made, worksheets, videos and DVDs are among the materials used in implementing the SPHE programme. Very good use is also made of the pupils’ own work and an area highlighting SPHE themes is a feature of most classrooms. The pupils generally have a good understanding of the terms social, personal and health education, especially in the middle and senior classes. It is evident from the positive behaviour of pupils throughout the school, that they have a clear sense of what is expected of them, both in the classroom and during recreational periods. Classroom rules, devised in collaboration with the pupils, also feature prominently in most classrooms.
A range of important programmes has been put in place to support the inclusion of children with particular needs in the life of the school. A breakfast club, homework club and part-time teaching supports have been established. An extensive range of courses, projects and activities have been put in place in order to promote parental involvement and the inclusive climate of the school. Courses related to curricular and pastoral matters are provided, including such topics as: computers for beginners, English classes for parents of international children, Maths for Fun training groups, gardening projects, drug awareness and first aid. The work of the home /school /community/ liaison co-ordinator in the promotion and development of these valuable and inclusive initiatives is highly commended. Very important and effective programmes are also undertaken by the support and resource teachers which contribute significantly to the successful inclusion and development of the pupils involved and the fostering of an inclusive educational community in the Holy Rosary School.
The school is conscious of the growing importance of the role of information and communication technology (ICT) in pupil learning and pupils avail of a well equipped computer room to acquire and practice relevant ICT skills. While all classrooms have access to ICT resources, the range of use in classrooms is variable. In many classrooms ICT is employed across a number of curricular areas, including SPHE, for writing and editing stories, accessing information and research, and practicing and consolidation of learning. Imaginative use is also made of the digital camera in some classrooms. These good practices in ICT should be shared throughout the school.
During the course of the year, opportunities are taken to access community support in carrying out the SPHE programme. Health service personnel give talks on a variety of personal, health and well-being topics, such as personal care and dental hygiene and personnel from ACCORD talk to pupils in sixth class. The local Gardaí and fire-officers are invited to talk to the pupils who are also provided with opportunities to visit important services and amenities in the local community including the Lifeboat Station, the Recycling Centre and a local organic farm.
A wide range of resources is available to facilitate the implementation of the English programme in the school. The resources, which consist of both commercial and teacher-designed products, are successfully used in the delivery of each of the three strands of the programme and ensure that pupils fully engage with their teachers during the delivery of lessons. In addition to a well-stocked school library each classroom also contains its own library and the attractiveness of the reading material available ensures that pupil interest in reading is successfully developed. A resource folder for the promotion of the English curriculum is readily accessible to the staff and is regularly consulted by individual teachers in the planning of their lessons. The pupils also enjoy the use of a bank of computers where word processing skills are competently developed and used in the production of their own creative work.
A detailed whole school plan for SPHE has been devised. The current plan was formulated following an in-school review involving all staff members. The vision, aims and objectives of pupil learning for SPHE in Holy Rosary School are set out in the plan and these are closely aligned with the Primary School Curriculum. The plan has been ratified by the board of management and a copy of the plan is provided to each teacher. Information on school policy in relation to SPHE is included the information booklet issued to the parents of all new pupils. Teachers plan for SPHE with reference to the whole-school plan, using a two year cycle outlined in the “Making the Links” booklet. The monthly report is used to record the work undertaken in each class. Building on planning processes undertaken to date, the collaborative whole-school approaches in relation to the SPHE programme should be extended to provide further cohesion of the programme carried out throughout the school. Consideration should be given to drawing up an overall plan for the implementation of the programme, setting out the particular strands and strand units to be addressed in each class over the two year cycle.
A Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) policy has also been developed which sets out the school vision and aims for RSE and the approach to the implementation of programme across the school. An RSE committee, including parents, was involved in drawing up the original policy. The RSE policy includes a provision for ongoing review and in this regard, consideration should be given to reviewing the implementation of the RSE programme in the context of the overall SPHE programme, and the evolving learning needs of the pupils in this area of the curriculum.
A comprehensive range of organisational policies has been drawn up addressing areas related to SPHE and the experiences of the pupils attending the school. These include policies on child protection, healthy eating and drinking, anti-bullying, safety statement, fire safety, homework, acceptable use of the internet, positive behaviour management, school attendance, sexual harassment, substance use, equal opportunity and the administration of medicines. Each policy is set out in the context of the needs and experiences of the school. This broad range of policies contributes to the development of clear procedures and good communication within the school community and the promotion of a supportive school climate for pupils.
Individual teachers undertake careful long and short-term planning for their work in SPHE and very effective use is made of the resources acquired by the school. The quality of planning undertaken by many teachers is highly commendable, demonstrating a detailed knowledge and sound understanding of the principles of the Primary School Curriculum. Planning provides for the active involvement of the pupils in the learning process and the linking of SPHE themes to areas across the curriculum.
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.
A detailed and collaboratively-devised, whole-school plan for English has been formulated. The curriculum co-ordinators, with the support of the principal and staff were involved in the drawing up of the plan which is subject to periodic review and development. The plan acknowledges the integrated nature of the curriculum and commits to providing a balanced learning experience for pupils in each of the three strands. The section dealing with oral language pays due attention to the development of pupils’ oral competence in an age-appropriate manner throughout the school through participation in a range of activities that provide for structured progression from infants up to sixth class. The whole-school approach to the promotion of literacy skills involves the systematic development of phonological and phonemic awareness while due care is taken of the development of a core sight vocabulary through the use of language experience charts and word walls. Pupils are exposed to a broad range of literacy materials including commercially-produced phonics programmes, formal reading schemes, parallel reading schemes, novels, library books and newspapers. The plan contains a broad range of strategies to encourage pupils to write in a wide variety of genres for different purposes and for a range of audiences. Excellent practice is in evidence in supporting the implementation of the writing process. Among the strategies used are scaffolding, the use of co-operative composition and the consistent use of drafting, editing and rewriting. Clear and systematic approaches to the development of pupils’ spelling, handwriting and grammar skills are outlined. The school plan for English informs the short-term and long-term planning of the teachers in a productive manner and staff members are praised for the efficiency with which they deliver the English curriculum at each level.
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 eight of the mainstream classrooms and four support teacher settings. A notable feature of the Holy Rosary School is the positive climate which is characteristic of classrooms across the school. The careful management and the effective organisation of the school, together with an emphasis on all children experiencing success in learning, contribute to the promotion of a secure and inclusive learning environment. The respect for the pupils displayed by the staff is reciprocated and open and positive communication was observed in classrooms throughout the school. The various contributions of the principal, teachers, ancillary staff and the parents of the pupils in facilitating and supporting this positive learning environment are commended.
The programme of SPHE implemented throughout the school is of a very high quality and it is evident that this area of the curriculum is regarded as a core area in the work of the school. Most of the classrooms provide SPHE rich environments where a broad range of themes and topics are presented and explored. Outstanding practice in teaching and learning was observed in classrooms across the school during the course of this evaluation and the high calibre of committed teaching staff throughout the school is impressive. Teachers employ a broad range of teaching methodologies and resources, and the work and contributions of the children are acknowledged and celebrated. Topics such as friendship and bullying, personal safety, healthy eating, road safety, growth and development, healthy habits, the media and advertising and changes taking place in Ireland today, are all skilfully addressed. Themes promoting a greater awareness of self and others are purposefully explored and the children’s sense of responsible decision-making and self-efficacy are fostered. Strategies employed to promote active learning and the involvement of the pupils include circle time, pair and group work, guided discussion, games, drama and role play. Very effective use is also made of story, poetry, song and opportunities for creative activities. In some classrooms ICT is skilfully employed to support teaching and learning in SPHE and opportunities to use ICT in this area could be further extended across the school. Appropriate links are made with related topics in other subject areas and lessons are carefully differentiated to accommodate the variety of the pupils’ learning needs and language abilities.
Opportunities for the pupils to pursue sport and recreational activities as part of the physical education programme, or as extra-curricular activities, are provided for and pupils attend swimming lessons and can access Gaelic games and hockey in partnership with local clubs and teams. The pupils also take part in a wide range of in-school and inter-school events and competitions, incorporating activities such as art, music, sport and chess. The pupils consciousness of and respect for the environment are strongly promoted, not least through active participation in the Green Schools Project. The school has been awarded a second green flag by An Taisce. Along with the classroom activities undertaken to promote awareness of others and the wider world, practical action and concern for other people is actively fostered and the pupils are encouraged to support good causes, such as agencies working in the developing world, and Operation Christmas Child.
The pupils’ involvement in the SPHE lessons during the course of the evaluation was impressive. They participated actively in tasks and discussions. The older pupils showed a keen interest and a good understanding and awareness of the relevance of SPHE themes to the lives of children and young people.
The school endeavours to listen to the voice of the pupils and surveys of aspects of the pupils’ experience of school have been undertaken, for example, to ascertain the pupils’ experiences of the playground, and of bullying. The information gained is used to assist the school in becoming more responsive to the needs and concerns of the children. The establishment of a Students’ Committee was underway at the time of this evaluation. Further arrangements should now be explored to enable pupils to have wider opportunities to participate in such activities as collaborative decision-making, sharing responsibility and contributing in particular ways to the developing life of the school community.
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 eight of the mainstream classrooms and in four support teaching settings.
Staff members acknowledge the pivotal role of oral fluency in the development of pupils’ learning skills and a wide and varied programme is delivered, both formally and informally, to pupils in each level of the school. This ensures that pupils are constantly exposed to opportunities and situations that are successfully used to enrich their expressive and receptive language skills. Enthusiastic levels of pupil participation characterise each lesson and pupils speak fluently and confidently on a range of topics. Resources are skilfully deployed to maintain pupil interest and to scaffold lessons. These resources are also used as props for role play and mime in drama. Pupils display appropriate language skills in their exploration of poetry and class novels and are very adept at presenting and justifying opinions. Pupils also enjoy reciting a range of appropriate poems and rhymes while the opportunity for pupils to engage in verse speaking has had a significant impact on the development of oral competence and confidence among the pupils.
A progressive approach is taken to the teaching of reading throughout the school. In infants pupils experience a rich variety of emergent reading material and are competently prepared for the introduction of more formal reading. A print-rich environment is provided for these pupils and the use by teachers of contextual clues to develop word recognition skills is praised. In the junior and middle classes pupils experience an ever-wider variety of reading matter and in addition to the class reader pupils also read the class novel. Various reading skills are introduced and practised and pupils are encouraged to become independent readers through engagement with a range of informational and fictional texts. In the senior classes the development of comprehension strategies including summarising, information retrieval, scanning and the ability to infer were a notable feature of the lessons observed while high quality discussion on character profile and emotional reactions also took place. The active and consistent use of the school library is central to the schools promotion of literacy skills. Books in the library are banded according to level of difficulty and all reading material is appropriate to the pupils’ wide range of interests. The importance given by the staff of the school to the promotion of an interest in reading can also be gauged from the fact that the operation of the library is a delegated responsibility of a staff member and that all classes are timetabled for a weekly visit to the school library. Parents also play an important part in the organisation of the library and the funds raised by the Parents’ Association have been constructively used to purchase reading materials that add significantly to the library stock.
The whole-school approach to the development of writing skills among pupils from the infant classes through to the senior classes is highly praised. The approach is informed by a comprehensive but very accessible school plan which is actively implemented at all levels in the school. In the infant classes the pupils’ emergent writing skills are cultivated very effectively with pupils being exposed to drawing and scribbling activities which progress to the writing of words, phrases and sentences. In the junior, middle and senior classes pupils are given opportunities to write in a wide range of genres and for a variety of audiences. Pupils are encouraged to explore and use a variety of poetry forms in their writing and attractive anthologies of completed poems are kept in various classes. The use of process writing activities is noteworthy as is the manner in which a tracking system is used to monitor each pupil’s progress during the various drafting and editing and re-writing stages. Particular attention is paid at each level of the school to the display of pupils’ work and samples of the pupils’ work reveal an appropriate understanding of the conventions of writing. Information and communication technology is effectively used also to enable to publish work in a most attractive manner. A formal handwriting programme is in use in the school and the teaching of handwriting in each class is in accordance with the provisions of this programme. The presentation of written work is therefore of a consistently high standard. Spelling skills are developed in a structured and systematic manner through the school. Approximate spelling and the development of phonological awareness form the basis of the work in the lower classes and this is followed in succeeding classes by the development of teacher-devised spelling lists and the use of a commercial scheme. Children’s achievement in spelling is commendable.
Provision for pupils who are in receipt of supplementary literacy teaching is made by the special education needs team. Comprehensive programmes are designed on a collaborative basis involving the learning support teacher, the resource teacher and the class teacher. Parents are also an integral part of the process and sign off on individual education plans. Lessons are expertly delivered and always address the assessed learning needs of the pupils. The team is praised for the manner in which its members collaborate with each other and the level of communication that exists with class teachers. Regular team meetings are held and minutes are kept of the discussion and outcomes of these meetings. The willingness of team members to share information and research on the nature of specific syndromes is also praised and has enhanced the provision for many of the special needs pupils. Delivery of programmes is mainly on a withdrawal basis with some in-class provision. It is now recommended that further consideration be given to expanding the in-class provision.
The school plan for SPHE details the range of strategies to be used for the assessment of the progress of the pupils in this area of the curriculum. Teacher observation, teacher-designated tasks and tests, formal and informal discussion with children and discussion of their work are all regularly employed in monitoring progress. Most teachers maintain portfolios of completed tasks and worksheets to track the work the work of the pupils. Teachers are generally very knowledgeable regarding the needs and strengths of the children and are responsive in relation to their development and to the issues which arise in the context of SPHE. Some teachers are highly effective in encouraging their pupils to engage in self-monitoring and self-assessment in relation to their work and behaviour in class. Teachers share insights on an ongoing basis, and SPHE topics and issues are frequently addressed at staff meetings and a number of school surveys of pupils’ views have been undertaken. In order to extend the valuable approaches used by the teachers in tracking the acquisition of skills, attitudes and achievements of the pupils, consideration should be given to further developing whole-school strategies to assess the continuity and progress of pupils in SPHE through the school.
Standardised tests in English administered to pupils include the Belfield Infant Assessment Profile to pupils in junior infants, the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) to pupils in senior infants, the Quest English Reading Test to pupils in first class and the Drumcondra Primary Reading Test which is administered to all pupils from second class to sixth class. The Non-Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT) is administered to pupils in first class. In addition teacher observation, portfolios of pupils’ work and teacher-designed tests are used on an ongoing basis to supplement the assessment programme in English. The results of these tests are used for screening purposes and to identify pupils who are in need of further diagnostic testing. A range of tests, including the Neale Analysis of Reading Ability, is used in this process. An analysis of attainment test results takes place on a school-wide basis and the results of this analysis inform the delivery of aspects of the English programme in the school. The quality of the assessment programme in English is praised. It is operated in a professional and comprehensive manner and it maintains a good balance between summative and formative assessment.
The Holy Rosary School is a highly effective and caring school committed to its ethos and mission in the community it serves. The principal and school team, supported by the board of management, demonstrate dedicated, conscientious and effective leadership in their work on behalf of the school. The school strives to be responsive to the present and emerging needs of the pupils and the well-being and development of the whole child are at the core of the work of this school. Positive and valued relationships with parents, the wider community and the education partners are in evidence. Excellent examples of teaching and learning were observed in classrooms, where there is a focus on providing pupils with a supportive environment and enriching experiences and where they can become actively engaged in the learning process. The principal and staff of Holy Rosary School are highly commended for the rich quality of the educational experiences provided for their pupils.
In the context of the further development of the school a number of themes have been identified with regard to SPHE and English. These include:
· Building on planning processes undertaken to date, the collaborative whole-school approaches in relation to the SPHE programme should be extended to develop greater cohesion of the programme carried out through the school.
· Wider opportunities for staff mobility across the whole-school should be provided in order to facilitate teachers in gaining a range of experience and to provide pupils with a variety of approaches and teaching styles.
· The recent establishment of the Students’ Committee provides a forum for the pupils’ voice to be expressed. Further opportunities should now be explored to enable pupils to gain wider experience of sharing responsibility and decision-making and enabling them to contribute meaningfully to aspects of school life and to the ongoing development of the school.
· Consideration should be given to expanding the in-class support for pupils who have special educational needs.
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.
Published September 2008