An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Date of inspection: 19 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science undertook an evaluation of the teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and English in a sample of schools nationally.
This evaluation is the third in a series of thematic evaluations of aspects of the primary curriculum and is part of an ongoing review of curriculum implementation in primary schools. The purpose of this evaluation is to provide information on the extent of curriculum implementation in SPHE and English. The evaluation focuses on the teaching and learning in SPHE and English and on the quality of pupils’ achievement. This evaluation identifies and affirms good practice, and makes recommendations for teaching and the enhancement of pupils’ learning experiences and levels of achievement.
Two inspectors were involved in the evaluation in Scoil Íosagáin. 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 in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Scoil Íosagáin is located on Aughavannagh Road, in Lower Crumlin and provides education for boys from second class to sixth class. Most of the pupils come from the local parish of St. Bernadette’s and Scoil Íosagáin shares a number of staff with the nearby Marist School for girls. The trustees of the school are the Christian Brothers who played a much larger role in the school at an earlier stage in the school’s history, when enrolment was several times what it is today. The school receives support through the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools Programme (DEIS) and the School Completion Programme. Current enrolment is 127 and this represents an increase and perhaps a stabilising of enrolment which had been in decline for many years reflecting the local demographics. The last school report took place in 1999 when the school marked its 50th anniversary and there were 111 pupils attending. The school has an administrative principal, 6 mainstream class teachers, one learning-support teacher, one resource teacher for pupils with lower incidence special educational needs, a shared support teacher, a shared home/school/ community liaison co-ordinator and a part-time language support teacher for international pupils.
The school building dates from 1949 and consists of 12 classrooms, a hall, a staff room, offices and a number of ancillary and storage areas. There is ample accommodation for the six mainstream classes, learning support teacher room, resource teacher room, computer room, library, principal’s and secretary’s offices and rooms to accommodate the shared home/school/community liaison co-ordinator, the support teacher and a teacher with part-time hours. There is also a parents’ room and parents and local community groups avail of the small number of remaining rooms not currently required by the school. The school has a large yard to the front of the building, which good use is made of for Physical Education, sports, games and recreational activities. While the school building is generally in good repair and regularly maintained, some refurbishment is required in the short term and the school is actively pursuing these matters. Further upgrading of the school facilities, such as the playground areas, would also contribute to the enhancement of the physical environment of the school.
The board of management is very conscientious in its support of the school and the chairperson is a frequent visitor to the school. The board is commended for its long-standing commitment to the work of the school. The parents’ association / parent planning group is also active in support of the school and the work of the parents over many years is praiseworthy. The school is commended for the significant role it plays in the life of the local community and for its involvement in a number of community and educational initiatives, such as Junior Achievement, the Community Garda Programme and local Partnership Programmes, and for its important links with a number of youth and sports clubs and local agencies.
The commitment to the area of SPHE in this school is evident through the range of programmes carried out across all classrooms. Grants provided by the Department of Education and Science are conscientiously employed in the provision of resources to support teaching and learning in SPHE. The parents’ association also provides funds to support the acquisition of useful curriculum resources. The SPHE programme is carried out using a broad range of teaching materials. The range of programmes include the Walk Tall Programme, Stay Safe, resource materials for Relationships and Sexuality Education, Be Safe, Action for Life, OK! Lets Go, and a variety of games and circle-time activity books and textbooks. The school also uses materials from The Respect Project, which aims to promote greater awareness of self and others in relationships in the school context and the wider community. A Rainbows group has been set up to assist pupils who may be experiencing loss bereavement or separation. An area displaying a variety of themes and topics from the SPHE programme is a feature of classrooms throughout the school. The pupils are generally familiar with the terms social, personal and health education and an awareness of the significance of this area of the curriculum is notable in the middle and senior classes. Across the school, classroom rules drawn up in consultation with the pupils are prominently displayed in classrooms. Through the ethos of the school, the organisational arrangements and school rules, along with the clear communication of the teachers, the pupils have developed a clear sense of the behaviour expected of them, both in the classroom and in the playground. It is apparent that pupils are actively involved in a range of aspects of school life and that their views are listened to and their opinions sought on a variety of school-related matters. Further consideration could be given at this stage to the development of the representative role of pupils in the life of the school, thus extending their opportunities for decision-making and responsibility.
During the course of the school year a number of speakers and agencies are engaged to work with the pupils, such as, Accord, drugs awareness groups, personnel from local post-primary schools and the library service. A highly important resource, supporting the implementation of the SPHE programme is the work of the home/school/community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator and the support teacher. This work makes a very significant contribution to the promotion of a positive school climate. Through participation in a number of programmes established in the school, many issues causing concern are addressed and constructive relationships are developed with the pupils and their parents.
A broad range of resources for English is in evidence throughout the school and includes a variety of large-format books, class novels and well-stocked classroom libraries. Commercially-produced and teacher- produced materials to aid in the development of pupils’ phonemic and phonological awareness are in use on a school-wide basis. Significant reference materials for teachers have also been acquired. The school generally uses information and communication technology (ICT) in a productive manner both in classroom and support-teaching settings. A very well-equipped ICT room has been developed and pupils regularly avail of this facility to enhance their ICT skills. In order to further enhance resource provision in this area and especially for some pupils with special educational needs it is recommended that the availability and use of appropriate software be increased, as resources permit. Consideration should also be given to the manner in which ICT is used in mainstream classrooms to support pupil learning.
The school plan for SPHE in Scoil Íosagáin has been carefully developed by the staff, with contributions from parents in the area of the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) policy. The plan is firmly linked to the principles set out in the Primary School Curriculum and aims to respond to the particular learning needs of the pupils of the school. The plan for SPHE is linked to the overall ethos of the school and aspires for each child to acquire the knowledge, skills and values to enable them to become a well-balanced person, healthy in mind and body and with a sense of personal responsibility, at school and in their community. Specific aims for whole-school policy in SPHE are outlined and the role of parents, school personnel, health professionals and members of the community in the successful implementation of the plan are acknowledged. The plan provides for all strands of the SPHE curriculum and is carried out over a two-year cycle.
A range of SPHE related policies have been drawn up involving the teaching staff and consultation with the board of management, parents/guardians and other interested parties in the local community. These policies include a behaviour policy, a substance misuse policy, an anti-bullying policy and a policy on partnership between the home, the school and the community. The school has also established a care team, comprising the principal, HSCL co-ordinator, learning-support teacher, support teacher and the relevant teacher to plan intervention and support for pupils who are of concern in the school context. Parents or guardians of the children are also involved as necessary. A systematic anti-bullying programme has also been put in place and is reported to have had a positive impact. The proactive approach of the school in developing and implementing these strategies is highly commended. The SPHE programme is conscientiously co-ordinated by a teacher with a post of responsibility. The range of policies and programmes carried out by the school contribute to the creation of a secure and supportive school environment where the overall learning needs of the pupils can be addressed.
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.
In English, staff members of the school are currently in the process of updating the existing school plan. A measure of the importance attached to the teaching of English in the school is gauged from the fact that the co-ordination of this work is assigned to a staff member as a post of responsibility duty. A timeframe is also in place for the completion of the plan, its future review and its full implementation. The development of the plan is progressing satisfactorily. Clear and specific targets have been set; the plan reflects the main emphases of the English curriculum and is accessible to all staff members. The plan is already informing the work of the school due to the participation of all staff members in its formulation and this is leading to a continuity of implementation in relation to the English programme. It is recommended that the plan would contain a statement on assessment, especially formative assessment, as this would further help the work of the school.
Individual teacher planning of a high standard was in evidence in SPHE and English. There is a commendable level of collaboration among the staff and good use is made of the resources available to the school. Each mainstream teacher prepares long-term and short-term plans of work with records of work completed being maintained on a monthly basis. Plans are detailed and learning-outcome focused and demonstrate clear links to the relevant parts of the school plan. Support teachers, in consultation with other relevant parties, in general prepare comprehensive individual education plans. There is a need however for increased focus in all settings on individual and group planning involving class teachers, support teachers, parents and personnel from other agencies that have contact with the school.
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 6 mainstream classrooms and 3 support teaching settings. In Scoil Íosagáin, it is clear that the teachers have endeavoured to create a secure, inclusive and attractive learning environment for their pupils and a positive classroom climate is evident in classrooms across the school. This is supported through the conscientious management and effective organisation of the school. In classrooms, the teachers endeavour to provide an encouraging and supportive experience for their pupils. The work and effort of the pupils are affirmed and the teachers are conscious of the role of self-confidence and self-esteem in fostering the children’s engagement and achievement in the learning process. The respect for the children shown by the school staff is reciprocated and good communication can be observed in all classrooms. Motivational systems to promote positive pupil behaviour are implemented at a whole school and individual class level in a highly consistent and effective manner. Strategies such as “Boy of the Week” and “Class of the Month” along with occasions such as school assembly have been used to recognise the efforts and achievements of individual pupils, groups and classes. The effective implementation of these approaches and the manner in which the pupils are acknowledged are highly commended.
Throughout the school, the teachers generally succeed in fostering a classroom climate where the pupils are enabled to contribute and communicate in an open manner. The pupils generally engage constructively, participate actively and interact purposefully in the learning activities and their openness, interest and involvement are praised. It is apparent that the pupils are provided with important opportunities to acquire the knowledge and skills that lead to greater understanding and to the development of values and attitudes that are relevant to their personal growth and life experience. While particular topics are addressed in discreet SPHE lessons, the teachers are aware that elements of the SPHE programme permeate the school day. In this context, opportunities to integrate SPHE themes across the curriculum are actively pursued. The school engages the agency Accord to assist with the implementation of the RSE programme with the senior pupils. The school also takes active steps to support the application of some of the key messages of the SPHE curriculum. Healthy eating practices are sensibly promoted in each classroom and opportunities for active participation in games and sport are provided for during school breaks and as part of the Physical Education programme. Opportunities are also provided for pupils to develop hobbies and skills in such areas as music, art, swimming and other areas of sport. A school programme is also carried out to assist pupils with the transition from the primary to the post-primary school and to advise the pupils on the issues that arise.
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 6 mainstream classrooms and in 3 support teaching settings. A positive and supportive atmosphere is in evidence in all classrooms with excellent pupil-teacher relationships being fostered. Pupils are most welcoming and in each classroom are willing to share their knowledge with each other and with their teacher. Classrooms provide a print-rich environment for the pupils and are decorated with displays of pupils’ writing. Praise is given for the manner in which the corridors of the school have been utilised as additional display areas. A variety of teaching approaches and strategies is used in the delivery of lessons, including whole-class instruction, group work and individual work and in all classes pupils are very much engaged in their own learning. All strands of the programme are afforded due attention and pupils benefit from a balanced exposure to the various elements of the programme.
In the oral language lessons observed it was obvious that many pupils have developed confidence in their expressive skills. The cross-curricular approach to the development of language is most successful and pupils also benefit from participation in structured classroom discussions, the giving of feedback and the modelling of specific situations. Staff might now look at the use of indicators to facilitate the recording of progression in this area as this practice would help to identify more clearly any deficits that needed remediation in the less articulate pupils. Pupils’ responsiveness to poetry is actively fostered throughout the school and pupils regularly receive opportunities to compose their own poems. Many of these poems are on display in the classroom writing areas and in the corridor. Opportunities for pupils to select and learn poems or excerpts from poems as a means of furthering language skills should be provided.
A wide range of reading materials is available to the pupils in each class and class novels and ancillary reading materials are competently used to develop the reading abilities of the pupils. Each classroom possesses a reading area and close links are also maintained by the school with the local library. The accessibility of the library to the pupils is a valuable support to the school staff in the promotion of reading among the pupils. Other successful initiatives undertaken by the school include the introduction of the Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) approach in classes and the promotion of paired reading. An appropriate emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ phonological and phonemic awareness in conjunction with this range of reading approaches at each level in the school. Staff should consider the rationalisation of the schemes in use as this would provide for a more continuous and concerted approach to the learning of phonics skills. Emerging phonics schemes might also be considered when reviewing this aspect of the programme. Positive reading standards are in evidence throughout the school and the efforts made by staff to address performance in this area are commended. Test results also indicate that pupils are achieving to their ability levels.
The reading programme is consistently linked to the writing programme in the school. Book reviews and the writing of character profiles form an integral part of the work in this area. Stories written by the senior pupils are also used as reading material by pupils in the junior and middle classes and this practice has had a positive effect on the pupils’ understanding of the reading and writing processes. Pupils engage in a range of writing genres at each level in the school including stories, poems, letters and procedural writing. The initiative shown by the school to establish pen pals with pupils in another school is praised. Some opportunities are provided for pupils to edit and redraft their writing and information and communication technology is competently used in some classes to facilitate this process. Classroom use of ICT might be further developed in this area. A structured approach is employed to aid the development of pupils’ penmanship skills and the presentation of written work is highly commended.
The special education service in the school provides support for pupils in English and Mathematics. Support is also provided for pupils with low incidence disabilities by the resource teacher. The service is clearly informed by the learning-support policy which outlines the roles and responsibilities of all school personnel with responsibility for special needs pupils. Lessons are characterised in general by appropriate levels of pupil participation and suitable teacher encouragement and affirmation. Further consideration might now be given to the development of an agreed system of planning and record keeping involving all the personnel with responsibility for special needs pupils. The current model of support is mainly withdrawal. Greater balance would be achieved in delivery of the special education service by the provision of increased in-class support.
In SPHE the strategies employed to assess the progress of the pupils include teacher observation, portfolios of pupils’ work, teacher-designed tasks, and the monitoring and display of project related activities in class. Well-maintained portfolios of pupils work are in evidence in classrooms and interesting displays of thematic projects carried out by the pupils are to be seen in many classroom settings. Teachers demonstrate a keen awareness and understanding of the pupils’ individual abilities and needs and they respond sensitively to issues raised during lessons in SPHE and related activities. The teachers also share information on a regular basis in relation to the social and personal development needs of the pupils. In the context of the range of SPHE related programmes and strategies in place, it would be useful at this stage to review the tracking and assessment of pupil progress with a view to developing a whole-school approach to monitoring the development of the pupils through the school. Parents are kept informed of their children’s progress through school reports and through the regular parent-teacher meetings and they can access the principal and class teachers where the need arises.
Attainment tests carried out in English include the Micra-T and the Drumcondra Primary Reading Test. Diagnostic testing is used once the screening testing is completed. Screening tests are administered by personnel from the special education team. It is now recommended that class teachers would administer the screening tests as part of the co-ordination of the assessment policy by the special education service.
It is evident that Scoil Íosagáin is strongly committed to its aim of providing a safe, supportive and positive learning environment where the educational needs of each child can be appropriately addressed. The school has endeavoured to put in place a range of initiatives and strategies to achieve its aims. The principal, teachers and support personnel are highly commended for their commitment and collaborative effort in this work. The commitment of the board of management and parents is also critical in enabling the school to create a school climate conducive to the pupils having positive school learning experiences and they are praised for their ongoing work in this regard.
In the context of the further development of the school, a number of themes have been identified in relation to SPHE and English, these include:
· Building on the good work carried out to date, the process of whole-school planning should be further developed in the areas relating to the social personal and health education of the pupils.
· The opportunities for pupils to use ICT in the mainstream classrooms should be increased, promoting the co-operative learning and SPHE related skills of the pupils across a range of curricular areas.
· The development of agreed planning and recording procedures in the special education section of the school should be undertaken.
· A more balanced approach between withdrawal and in-class support provision in the delivery of the special education service should be implemented.
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The board is pleased with the positive nature of this report. We feel that we have an excellent staff both teaching and non-teaching who are all committed to implementing the recommendations of this report. The newly formed Board of Management will discuss in detail all aspects of this report and work with the school community to develop a safe, supportive and positive learning environment where the educational needs of each child can be appropriately addressed.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
At the December staff meeting a detailed examination of the four main recommendations took place. Post-holders will report back at the next staff meeting with a discussion document as to which steps are next to be taken.