An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:

Social, Personal and Health Education and English





Castleconnell NS


Co. Limerick

Uimhir rolla: 18161A


Date of inspection: 14 February 2007

  Date of issue of report:  8 November 2007




1. School background and context

2. Provision and use of resources in SPHE and English

3. Quality of whole school planning in phe and English

4. Quality of teaching and learning in SPHE and English

4.1 Social Personal and Health Education

4.2 English

5. Quality of assessment in SPHE and English

6. Future development of SPHE and English

School Response to the Report




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 Castleconnell 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.  The board of management 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.


1. School background and context

Castleconnell National School is a ten-teacher, mainstream co-educational primary school located on the outskirts of Castleconnell village, approximately 15 kilometres from Limerick City. There are 196 pupils from junior infants to sixth class enrolled. The school is under the patronage of the Bishop of Limerick. The school receives grants to support pupils as a participant in the Department of Education and Science Initiative Giving Children an Even Break through Tackling Disadvantage Scheme (GCAEBS)


During the evaluation in 2000 there were 185 pupils in the school and a staff of seven teachers. Enrolments have increased in the intervening period and the principal stated that due to the expansion of housing development in the area that the projected figures indicate that by 2009 the enrolment will be at 241 approximately. Since the last evaluation a new principal and three teachers have been appointed. During the evaluation period two substitute teachers were working in the school.


Attendance of pupils at the school in the term prior to the whole school evaluation was good. However figures provided by the school for the previous school year indicate that there is a very significant rate of absenteeism. The board of management in collaboration with the school staff should consider devising a school attendance strategy in accordance with the Education and Welfare Act 2000. Parents should be advised of their responsibilities in respect of their children’s attendance at school on a daily basis and the consequent effect that regular absenteeism has on academic achievement over the eight-year cycle in the primary school.


The principal demonstrates very effective leadership qualities and good organisational skills which contribute to the overall effectiveness of the school. Under the leadership of the principal, the school has coped very well with the pace of change since the last Tuairisc Scoile (School Report) was issued by the Inspectorate in 2000. Good structures are in place for the smooth day to day running of the school, good relationships are fostered with the board of management, members of the teaching staff, external agencies and with the parent body generally. The school leadership is to be commended for the inclusive atmosphere that prevails in the school. The holistic development of pupils including pupils with special educational needs is promoted satisfactorily. The principal is supported effectively by an in-school-management team, which comprises a deputy principal and three special duties post-holders. The roles attached to these posts are clearly defined. A strong spirit of commitment to the school and collegiate spirit exist among the team members and good relationships are fostered with other members of the teaching staff.


The chairperson reported that the board is supportive of the work of the school and that there is good communication among the board members, the parents and the staff of the school. It was also stated that the school is actively engaged in community activities. Board members have particular roles and responsibilities which they execute regularly providing support for the principal and staff. This exemplifies good practice in the context of collaborative school management.


The school’s Parents’ Association is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council.  The principal reported that the parents support the work of the school through their involvement in policy formulation, assisting at school events, assisting in developing the physical environment of the school and fundraising activities. It is also reported that parents are invited to review and comment on organisational and curricular policies and that parents are taking a lead role in the development of a community/parent/school policy. A copy of the SPHE plan was given to the parents’ association for their comment during the drafting and ratification process. Members of the parents’ association in collaboration with the staff are in the process of updating the school’s website. It is recommended that the website should be utilised to communicate all aspects of school life to the wider community including relevant organisational and curricular policies. Communication with parents is further enhanced through the feedback provided through the annual parent-teacher meeting and the informal parent-teacher contact provided for in the school.


The mission statement of Castleconnell NS states that it aspires to create a caring, stimulating environment, which celebrates the uniqueness of each individual in the school community. All pupils will be encouraged to recognise and realise their full potential thus enabling them to embrace with confidence the challenges of life.” This mission statement is evident in the caring atmoSPHEre created in the school which provides a well ordered secure atmoSPHEre for pupils. The school climate is warm and child friendly where pupils are praised regularly and are conscientiously encouraged to react positively to other pupils’ efforts and contributions both at work and at play. A successful approach to the management of pupils is evident throughout the school and pupils are provided with opportunities to assume responsibility and to develop self-confidence and self-esteem. Respectful pupil-pupil and pupil-teacher interactions characterise a positive school climate in which pupils are encouraged to develop their talents and interests.


The pupils in the school display pride and interest in their work and co-operate willingly with their teachers during all class activities. They are eager to engage in discussion and participate fully in learning situations. It is noteworthy that the pupils display very courteous, friendly and respectful behaviour towards each other, towards staff and towards visitors. They also demonstrate care and respect for their school environment.

2. Provision and use of resources in SPHE and english

The school has an administrative principal and seven mainstream class teachers. The school also has the services of one learning support teacher, one resource teacher and two part-time resource teachers based in another school. One part-time language support teacher providing support for two hours per week to foreign national children. The learning support teacher job shares with a colleague in the school. Personnel are deployed in an effective manner and while there is some rotation of teachers, there is a need to formulate a policy in regard to the rotation of teachers to afford all teachers the experience of teaching in a variety of classes and contexts. However, the final decision regarding the deployment of staff is a function of the principal. During the evaluation period three full-time and one part-time special needs assistant (SNA) cater for pupils with special needs. During the post-evaluation meeting the principal reported that the DES had sanctioned a full time SNA and that they now had four full-time positions. They provide extremely positive support to the pupils enabling them to participate in all school activities in a meaningful way. The school has the services of a part-time secretary and caretaker who provide valuable support to the school management and the teachers.


The majority of classrooms are bright, comfortable, adequately heated and ventilated. As highlighted during the evaluation the area of the classrooms varies and it is recommended that classes with larger pupil numbers should be accommodated in the larger classrooms. In general, classroom environments are print-rich and specific areas are allocated to the display of pupils’ SPHE activities and illustrative materials to support the SPHE programme. Classroom rules, devised in collaboration with the pupils are displayed in most classrooms and pupils indicated in their interaction with the inspectors the importance of having pride in their school.


The board of management is commended for the maintenance of the school and for the implementation of their five year maintenance plan to upgrade the classrooms and the sanitary facilities. There are appropriate toilet facilities and hygiene rules are clearly displayed on all toilet doors. Pupils however do not have access to warm water. Playground and recreational space are satisfactory. However there is a need to include the repair of the fencing and the painting of the exterior of the school in the next maintenance plan. The current priority of the board is the provision of a car park. This is welcome as current car parking for parents and visitors to the school is inadequate.


The school is well equipped with resources for teaching and learning in SPHE. An audit of the SPHE resources was conducted and all teachers have a list of the resources which are stored centrally in the staff room.  Teachers are provided with a list of the lessons for each strand and strand unit and these are detailed in the school plan. Key resource materials to support the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme include Busy Bodies, Walk Tall and Stay Safe programmes.  Teachers avail of resources from the wider community which include visits from guest speakers and people who work in the community. The use of external tutors to support the implementation of aspects of SPHE and RSE is carefully considered and the principal monitors the effectiveness of such external tutors.


The school is well equipped with a wide range of resources in English. Reading materials are readily available and accessible in most classrooms and are generally appropriate to the ages and abilities of the pupils and they display a high level of enthusiasm for using the books. A wide range of big books is evident in the junior classes. Some teachers have been successful in the creation of attractive and meaningful print-rich environments in their classrooms. The resources at the disposal of these teachers have been used well to support the concepts being developed in language acquisition, reading and writing. The creation of an effective and relevant print-rich environment in all classes must now become a priority for the school.


In some classes, the resources are used cleverly to reflect the experience of the pupils and to encourage the work in a manner which encompasses their day to day activities. This serves to highlight the relevance of their learning for the pupils and is very effective work. In the teaching of pupils with special educational needs (SEN), there is evidence of excellent resource manipulation in the learning context. The inclusion of information and communication technologies (ICT) in lessons taught is a regular feature of the work undertaken. Relevant software which develops pupils’ understanding of the concepts is used purposefully.  Very good use of audio equipment is to be seen where the independent learning skills of the SEN pupils are fostered. It is recommended that these methodologies would be extended to the mainstream classes more systematically in order to ensure the effective deployment of the resources available, especially with regard to ICT.

3. Quality of whole school planning in SPHE and english

The whole school SPHE plan was formulated by the staff and ratified by the board of management in 2004. The plan is good and was formulated utilising the School Development Planning Support (SDPS) curriculum planning template. The plan illustrates the significant effort and thought on the part of the teachers who formulated the plan. Review was to take place in June 2006. However, the review will now be conducted in the academic year 2007/2008. The plan is based on the structure and the principles of the SPHE curriculum and it takes account of the three curriculum strands, Myself, Myself and Others and Myself and the Wider World. The vision clearly outlined in the plan states that the “SPHE curriculum will provide opportunities to develop skills, values and attitudes that will support an environment where all people feel a sense of belonging and are accepted as themselves”. The plan provides brief detail under a range of headings including vision, aims, objectives, methodologies,  assessment, children with differing needs, integration, resources, parental involvement, home school community links, school projects, guest speakers,  review and ratification. More specific detail is provided in relation to the three contexts for SPHE which include Positive school climate and atmoSPHEre, Discrete time and Integration with other subject areas. Some detail is also provided in the area of assessment with particular emphasis on teacher observation. A copy of the plan is available in the office for parents to read. A copy of the plan is provided to all the teaching staff. The principal is in the process of developing staff folders which will be maintained in the computer room and all reviewed and newly formulated organisational and curricular policies will be filed in the folders. Parents’ may access all policies through the principal’s office.



Many organisational policies support the SPHE plan. These include anti-bullying, draft enrolment policy, code of behaviour, health and safety, healthy eating guidelines, substance use, playground policy, and acceptable user policy (AUP).  Copies of healthy eating, code of behaviour and anti-bullying policies are disseminated to parents.


A draft enrolment policy has been developed. It is recommended that the board of management in collaboration with the staff review the enrolment policy in order to ensure compliance with the Education Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000 to 2002. Conditions for enrolment cannot be applied to pupils with special educational needs, to foreign-national pupils or Traveller children.


A policy on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) policy is available. The principal and teachers report good implementation of the RSE programme particularly at senior level.  There remains some difficulty with regard to aspects of the programme at the infant, junior and middle levels about the naming of body parts as outlined in the Growing and Changing strand unit. It is advised that a review of the RSE policy be undertaken in consultation with the partners and that the content objectives for all class levels be clearly outlined in this process, recorded in the plan and disseminated to parents. It is important that all content objectives of the RSE curriculum be implemented under the SPHE curriculum in all classes.


The development of a gender equality policy in collaboration with the parents’ association commenced recently utilising the recently published DES publication Equal Measures. It is recommended that all the partners including pupils be involved in the review of the SPHE programme and that a copy of the final plan be disseminated to parents.


Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff has developed and adopted a very brief statement in relation to Child Protection. It is recommended that appropriate steps be taken to develop a clear policy 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) without delay. A designated liaison person (DLP) has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines and it is recommended that the DLP be named in the policy and that a copy of the reviewed policy be disseminated to all the staff and board members. At the post evaluation meeting the principal stated that a draft policy had been formulated which would be discussed by both the board and staff without delay and that a ratified copy would be disseminated to all parties.


Teachers plan programmes on a two yearly basis to ensure continuity and progression in SPHE. The quality of classroom planning in most of the classrooms was very good. Long-term, short-term planning and monthly progress reports were provided by all teachers in line with the requirements of Rule 126. Monthly records were maintained by the principal and stored centrally. In some classrooms, very good practice was noted where planning was very closely linked to the curriculum objectives and to the curriculum strands and strand units. To ensure consistency in individual planning, an agreed template might be devised which would allow for strand and strand units, content objectives, methodologies, resources, content and methods of assessment to be stated.There is evidence that all teachers are conscious of individual differences in their classrooms and  careful attention is paid to pupils with special educational needs. However there is no record of differentiation in individual teachers’ planning. The integration and linkage of SPHE with other subjects is carefully planned and executed in some classes. This results in a very rich, comprehensive programme of learning for the pupils. There is evidence of progression and continuity in two strands Myself and Myself and Others


Monthly progress reports are maintained which are largely based on reporting the broad content of lessons taught. A review of the monthly progress records indicates that all three strands of the SPHE curriculum are covered. However, while particular attention is given to the strands Myself and Myself and Others, it is recommended that the strand Myself and the Wider World be taught each term to ensure continuity and progression in this aspect of the curriculum throughout the school. It is also recommended that all staff record progress in a similar and systemic manner so that the monthly progress reports become a more useful tool in reviewing the progress of the curriculum implementation across the school. The monthly progress record should include a report on the progress made in skills, attitudes and values in the strands and the strand units.


The quality of whole school planning in English in this school is very good. Well-developed and graded programmes of work are in place for all class standards. All strands of the 1999 Primary Curriculum are delivered and clear direction for the class teacher regarding their implementation is evident. The school is commended for the work done with this plan especially with regard to the assessment strategies which have been identified at whole school level to assist the class teacher in evaluating progress. The Individual Education Plan (IEP) is emphasised providing mainstream and special education teachers with clear strategies for the inclusion of SEN pupils in mainstream lessons. The identification of strategies aimed at returning SEN pupils to the mainstream setting is also commendable.


Individual teacher planning in English is also clear and comprehensive. Detailed programmes of work are outlined. There is a need for the school as a whole to examine its use of the monthly report as a tool for evaluating progress in specific areas of the curriculum. Knowing what the pupils have learned is an essential element of the entire process and more work is required in this area to refine the data gathering process and to decide what strategies are then appropriate. Planning for SEN pupils is of a very high standard. IEPs are concise, relevant and offer clear evidence of effective liaison with the class teachers. Emphasis is placed on the IEP in the whole school plan. Individual teachers’ plans outline the work to be completed, the resources to be used and the assessment strategies involved in deciding the next step forward in the short-term. The plans evaluated during the instruction process were very good.


A strategic planning framework is now required in order to focus on the development of specific organisational, curricular and resource plans for the next three years. Allied to the phased introduction of the Primary Curriculum (1999), it would be appropriate to introduce a formal school-based self-evaluation process. Consideration should be given to the suggestions contained in the Department of Education and Science publication “Looking at our School.”

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, allocation of SPHE tasks and the interaction with the pupils in four of the mainstream classrooms. All teachers implement the SPHE curriculum and SPHE is timetabled as a core curricular subject. A positive atmosphere in the classroom facilitates learning in SPHE. Teachers are encouraging and affirming of their pupils and they work hard to ensure the maximum participation of pupils. A satisfactory SPHE programme in the curriculum strands Myself and “Myself and others” is implemented. A review of the provision in the curriculum strand “Myself and the Wider World” is now recommended to ensure that a broad and balanced programme is delivered throughout the school.


The quality of teaching in SPHE is good in all classrooms observed. Pupils are stimulated by and actively engaged in well constructed lessons. Whole-class teaching is the predominant strategy. Talk and Discussion is a key methodology employed in SPHE. During activities and lessons pupils are encouraged to ask questions, give opinions, explore ideas and make responses. Most teachers seat pupils in groups to facilitate group work and interaction with peers. While the majority of pupils worked in a collaborative manner, observation of learning activities and the involvement of pupils in sharing responsibilities, roles and tasks indicates that there is need for further emphasis on the development of collaborative learning approaches throughout the school. The inclusive school atmosphere provides opportunities for the all-round development of pupils with special educational needs. The care and attention given to the pupils by classroom teachers, support teachers and special education needs assistants are laudable. The social stories utilised by the support teachers are praiseworthy.



Pupils embrace SPHE activities with enthusiasm and display confidence in their learning. The majority of pupils are forthcoming in expressing their feelings and opinions and can relate learning in SPHE to their own lives and experience. Senior pupils are enthusiastic about themes studied including nutrition, bullying, friendship and drug use. Some pupils are hesitant speakers and strategies need to be put in place to promote their involvement in classroom activities. Further opportunities for these pupils to develop competence and confidence in their use of language across the curriculum should now be exploited. In the majority of classrooms pupils listen respectfully to the views and opinions of others. Further use of circle time will promote listening skills. The increased use of Drama and role-play activities will also support this aim.  


The pupils present as enthusiastic and active learners and are provided with opportunities to engage in independent and collaborative areas of interest through a broad range of curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular experiences. Co-curricular experiences include the Write-a-book project, Comenius school-exchanges, the An Taisce Green Flag awards schemes, a music literacy instrumental programme for senior pupils, the National Children’s Choir and regular musical performances. A wide range of extra-curricular activities is also offered including team sports for girls and boys, chess, trips to museums, art galleries, theatre and engagement in heritage programmes. These activities support the strategies employed by the staff to ensure that pupils are offered appropriate opportunities to develop socially, emotionally and intellectually as they advance through the school. It is timely now to establish a students’ council which will further provide opportunities for senior pupils to engage in the decision making in the school.

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, interaction with pupils in four of the mainstream classrooms, in three support teaching settings and in one language class. In general, learning and teaching of English is of a very good standard.


Poetry, drama, pupils’ own experiences and topics relevant to other areas of the curriculum are used effectively to promote pupils’ oral language skills. It is important that all teachers employ a wide range of strategies in a consistent manner to ensure progression in the development of oral language throughout the whole school. Teachers should ensure that all pupils have adequate opportunities to interact with their peers and the teacher during oral language lessons. A collaborative in-class approach to the teaching of oral language between the mainstream teachers and support teachers is recommended to ensure satisfactory progress from all pupils.


In general, pupils read with fluency and understanding. In the infant classes, there is a strong focus on the development of positive attitudes to reading and to the acquisition of the appropriate pre-reading concepts to promote good achievement in literacy. Throughout the school, pupils are encouraged to read and to become familiar with a wide range of interesting and appropriate reading materials. Reading is promoted across the curriculum and pupils are enthusiastic with regard to their progress. Overall pupils’ attainment in reading is good as evidenced by standardised test results.


In writing, a wide variety of genres is explored to facilitate children’s writing. Some very good samples of pupils’ writing were observed during the evaluation process. However, there is a need to promote and extend the good practice observed. The use of ICT as a means of assisting the pupils with drafting, refining and presenting their work should also be considered. The more regular production of a school newsletter where writing skills are utilised in an authentic context should be considered as a means of further developing pupils’ writing skills.

5. Quality of assessment in SPHE and english

In SPHE, teacher-observation is the main method of assessment used in this school to evaluate pupils’ learning. In some classes pupils have dedicated SPHE copybooks and other teachers use photocopied worksheets. One teacher had begun to develop individual pupil portfolios of work completed. Project work is used effectively in the middle and senior classes. Consideration might now be given to a whole-school approach to assessment in SPHE. This approach should be recorded in the school plan. Careful consideration should be given to what the teachers observe and record with regard to their pupils’ progress, achievements, skill development and attitudes in SPHE. It is recommended that assessment of SPHE be placed on the agenda of staff meeting/ meetings to provide teachers with the opportunity to explore the nature and role of assessment in SPHE and to decide on the most effective ways  of using the process in order to enhance and complement the learning and teaching in the school. Utilising the checklists detailed in the school’s plan and recording the relevant or the most significant observations will further inform the planning process and ensure that there is continuity and progression throughout the school. Emphasis should also be placed on the use of teacher-designed tests and tasks and the development of pupil portfolios which will also provide evidence of development of both the process and the product


In some classes, there is clear evidence of how well all pupils are developing the required skills in English. Specific lesson objectives are used as a guide to achievement of pupils and for planning future work. This system is not evident in all classes. In order to assess the rate and quality of progress in the various strands of the English curriculum, the school needs to refer to the very good school plan already developed. The lesson objectives and the skills to be developed are all clearly identified for the class teacher. The developing of the various skills identified in the plan must occur systematically. To this end it is vital that the monthly report be altered to be used as an assessment tool that will facilitate the gathering of data from each class level in respect of the objectives and skills taught during that month. Whole school knowledge around the outcomes of this work will serve the planning and assessment processes well. Knowledge of attainment of a range of particular skills will highlight the successful strategies and resources and will improve achievement for all pupils.  



6. Future development of SPHE and english

The positive, supportive school environment provided by Castleconnell National School and the range of SPHE and cross-curricular activities provide children with opportunities to develop responsible attitudes to themselves, to their community and to the wider world. The spirit of the school is encapsulated in the dedication, commitment and hard work of the pupils and staff.


A number of themes for future development are identified and some are outlined hereunder:


  •  The SPHE plan should be reviewed in consultation with all the partners including the pupils.

        Copies of the reviewed plan should be disseminated to the parents.

  • The policy for Relationships and Sexuality Education should be reviewed in consultation with the partners. The objectives for all class levels should be outlined and included in the policy.
  • Teachers should plan for the differentiation of SPHE tasks and activities in relation to pupils with special educational needs.
  • Further emphasis should be placed on the development of pupils’ listening and discussion skills and on the development of pupils’ vocabulary in SPHE as advised.
  •  A whole school approach to assessment in SPHE should be documented in the SPHE plan and 

              its implementation throughout the school should be monitored.

  • The completion of monthly progress records which focus on pupils’ achievement in respect of specific objectives should be implemented throughout the school in order to better inform teaching and learning.
  • The school’s enrolment and child protection policies should be reviewed.
  • Greater use of ICT as a resource in mainstream classes is recommended.
  • The further development of a print-rich environment in all classrooms is recommended
  • The assessment of specific objectives in literacy should be further documented in the monthly progress records.
  • Effective interactions by all pupils with peers and with teachers should be ensured.




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.






School Response to the Report


Submitted by the Board of Management





 Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report


The Board of Management has been aware of the difficulty of absenteeism for sometime. Many initiatives have been undertaken at school level to improve attendance and raise awareness among the parent body.  The most significant problem is the growing trend in society of families taking holidays during term time. This is a nationwide problem and needs attention at national level.



Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the   inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection


Ø      Our attendance strategy has been formulated. This policy has been drawn up by all partners in our school community and ratified by the Board of Management. It is our intention to circulate this document to the general parent body in September 2007. In addition to this the area of school attendance will be included in the duties for a special duties teacher.


Ø      Child protection Guidelines: detailed discussion has taken place at all levels within our school community and a revised Child protection policy has been ratified by the Board in accordance with official documentation from the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Children. Once again this revised policy will be circulated in September 2007


Ø      The DES publication “Looking at our school” has been used as a framework for planning in recent years. To further develop this work a schedule is now in place for the forthcoming academic year to facilitate a formal school based self-evaluation process