An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Scoil Mhuire, Boys National School
Millstreet, County Cork
Date of inspection: 14 December 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 was involved in the evaluation in Scoil Mhuire National School, Millstreet, Co. Cork. 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 Mhuire, situated in the town of Millstreet, is a five-teacher school with a current enrolment of 83 pupils. It is one of four schools that serves the parish of Millstreet and functions under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Kerry. The school caters for boys only from second to sixth class. Enrolment trends have remained constant for the last number of years despite the fact that the town and the surrounding locality has experienced an increase in the number of foreign nationals living in the area. To date, this has not impacted to any great extent on enrolment trends in the school.
Built in 1959, the school has four spacious classrooms, a large storage area, a learning support and a resource room as well as a staff room and office. The interior of the school is bright and welcoming and the corridors are enhanced with colourful and attractive displays of pupils art work, posters and photographic records. The outdoor play area consists of spacious hard-court areas including the community tennis and basketball courts. The school avails of the sporting facilities of the town park and the local community hall. The school environs are maintained to a high standard.
A supportive parents’ association provides assistance to the school by organising particular events and fundraising activities. This parents’ association comprises parents from the neighbouring girls’ convent school and it is reported that the combined effort of parents from both schools is proving beneficial.
A warm and welcoming atmosphere was evident during the period of inspection and a positive spirit was reflected in the daily interactions among pupils and teachers. The pupils are courteous, confident and respectful. They are eager to engage in discussion and participate fully in all school activities. The constructive attitude and behaviour of pupils is indeed praiseworthy. Pupils’ self esteem and confidence is fostered through their participation in sports, liturgical and community events. Ancillary staff contribute significantly to promoting and maintaining a pleasant working environment. There is a palpable spirit of cooperation and collaboration in the school and this has many benefits for pupils and for the general school community.
There is a good array of material provided to assist in the teaching of Social, Personal and Health Education. Resources and materials from the Stay Safe, Action for Life, Walk Tall, Bí Folláin and Relationships and Sexuality Education(RSE) programmes are used regularly throughout the school. A range of DVD and video material, charts, teachers’ books, equipment and worksheets is available to support the work in this curricular area. Some classrooms feature a designated area for SPHE topics. This good practice should be extended to all classrooms where classroom rules could also be displayed. The school avails of the assistance of guest speakers from various community services to address the pupils on aspects related to the SPHE programme.
Appropriate resources are available in the school to support the teaching and learning of English. In general these resources are readily accessible and used to good effect. A range of reading texts is used throughout the school which includes large format books, structured reading texts, class novels, library books and some graded readers. Most classrooms have suitable charts, posters and teacher-designed visual aids on display which contribute to the creation of a pleasant learning environment. Pupils’ work is also celebrated in attractive classroom displays. A number of computers are available in all classrooms and, in some instances, pupils use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the presentation of their written work. This good practice should be further extended throughout the school. In general, resources are being used to support pupils’ active engagement in the learning process.
The school staff have devised a number of policies related to SPHE. Such policies include a code of behaviour, administration of medicines, data protection policy, acceptable usage plan and a policy related to school attendance. In general, these policies merit further development and elaboration. In consultation with all partners, a full review of all policies is recommended and this work should be undertaken within specific timeframes. Such a review will provide greater clarity and further direction for implementation of policies. To this end, it is advised that the school authorities seek additional support of cuiditheoirí from the national support services. It is also necessary for staff to engage in action planning and prioritise areas for development in accordance with the identified needs of the school. This approach to planning will ensure consistent and ongoing progress in the area of policy development. It is of note that some policies, namely policies related to the use of mobile phones and the use of the internet are specifically designed for pupils only. It is advocated that all policies be applicable to the whole school community. 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 these policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines. However, in order to provide greater clarity with regard to procedures, roles and responsibilities, it is recommended that all policies related to the Child Protection Guidelines be reviewed. The dissemination of these revised policies to the whole school community should then be undertaken. It is noted that holders of posts of responsibility do not take leading responsibility for curricular areas. It is advised that, in accordance with departmental circular, post holders should be allocated a balance of curricular, administrative and pastoral duties.
A detailed curricular plan for Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) has been devised. A two-year programme is envisaged with particular strands being covered each year. A positive climate permeates the school and creates a suitable atmosphere for all work related to the SPHE programme. While the plan covers some aspects of the SPHE programme, a clear delineation of content objectives for each class level is required to ensure continuity and progression throughout the school. The plan should also address the areas of assessment, staff development, parental involvement and community links to assist in the effective delivery of this curricular area.
In general, the whole-school plan for English guides the teaching and learning in classrooms. The curricular plan outlines an integrated language programme encompassing oral language, reading and writing. The strands and content objectives appropriate for each class level coupled with clear guidelines for their implementation are also documented. To ensure the delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum other aspects of the plan such as the development of a whole-school structured approach to language development, poetry and reading should be included.
Teachers prepare long-term and short-term schemes of work to ensure that pupils experience a diverse range of learning activities. The quality of long-term planning varies. A school template documents short-term plans of work. This template also provides a record of work undertaken monthly by the use of a ticking system. This practice of recording should be reviewed for the purpose of ensuring consistency and accessibility of information.
4.1 Social Personal and Health Education
The quality of provision in SPHE was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching and learning, a review of samples of pupils’ work and interaction with the pupils in four of the mainstream classrooms. Some exercises and tasks completed by pupils were also examined as were folders and copybooks. Topics and issues were also discussed with pupils and their engagement with SPHE was explored.
A positive, respectful and caring school atmosphere permeates the school community where individuals are valued, cared for and respected. Teachers are vigilant in providing a well-ordered secure, safe and healthy environment. A strong sense of mutual respect exists between teachers and pupils. Discipline is effectively managed and pupils display confidence and assurance in their interactions with each other and with their teachers.
A good variety of teaching approaches and active learning strategies were used in the discrete SPHE lessons observed. Story is used to good effect to elicit listening skills and to enable pupils to explore relevant issues. Pupils are enabled to acquire and improve their skills of communication and social interaction through the effective use of group and pair work. Other methodologies such as talk and discussion, role play and circle time are suitably employed to assist in the teaching and learning of the SPHE programme. Greater use of project work would provide opportunities for further skill development and consolidation of knowledge. Lessons observed were structured, purposeful and well developed. A review of monthly progress records, available from January 2007 only, indicate that the greater emphasis is placed on the strands Myself and Myself and Others. It is advised that the strand Myself and the Wider World, might be given appropriate attention so that all aspects of the programme are taught during the two year cycle of implementation. In general, the work in SPHE is suitably integrated with other curricular areas. As the pupils in the senior classes actively engage in debate on issues related to school life, the school might now consider establishing a school council to provide greater opportunity for pupil involvement. Commendable practice is evident with regard to the transfer of pupils to and from this school.
Currently the learning support teacher delivers the SPHE programme to the pupils in the senior class. It is recommended that the mainstream class teacher be responsible for the delivery of the SPHE programme to the class to ensure that the needs of all pupils, particularly those pupils who attend learning support, are addressed.
The quality of provision in English was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching and learning, a review of samples of pupils’ work and interaction with the pupils in four of the mainstream classrooms and in three support teaching settings. In the delivery of the English programme, a good range of teaching methodologies was noted including whole class teaching, group and pair work. In most instances, lessons are well-structured, paced and developed and content was suitably chosen for the age and range of ability of pupils. Some of the work observed was carefully integrated with other areas of the curriculum.
Emphasis is placed on developing pupil’s oral language skills in English during discrete oral language activities. This work is complemented by oral language development across other curricular areas. The development of pupils’ receptive skills is emphasised and in general teachers create a supportive and interactive framework for expressive language development. Sentence structure and descriptive vocabulary is explored through a range of suitable topics. As part of the language experience pupils are exposed to a range of rhyme and poetry and discussion of themes in poetry supports the development of pupils’ emotional response. As a developmental feature, staff might decide on a core compilation of poetry that should be taught at the various class levels throughout the school. Higher order thinking skills are appropriately developed in some classes through good questioning techniques. In general, pupils display an ability to express their views in a confident manner. However, the productive use of the discrete oral language lesson for the development of pupils’ language skill is not a feature of all classrooms. To ensure the coordination of all language experiences, the teaching staff should now plan for the delivery of a whole-school discrete oral language programme that is developmental and incremental in nature. The development of specific topics linked closely to the content objectives would enhance oral language development throughout the school.
Pupils’ reading skills are developed gainfully and pupils are exposed to an environment that is rich in print. Commendable attention is given to the teaching of high frequency words and the development of a common social sight vocabulary. Most pupils achieve a good level of proficiency in word identification skills. The comprehensive phonological and phonemic awareness programme that is detailed in the school plan is currently not being implemented throughout the school. It is therefore recommended that pupils in all classes be exposed to a coordinated, systematic phonological programme which would endeavour to further promote pupils’ reading skills.
Reading for pleasure is fostered through a range of approaches and the employment of various strategies including silent reading, Children and Parents Enjoy Reading Programme(CAPER) and a reading buddies system. The school organises book fairs and visits to the local library. While these activities foster a positive reading culture throughout the school a review of the whole-school reading programme should clarify the types of texts to be used at the various class levels, the timely introduction of the class novel, the implementation of the CAPER and reading buddy programmes and the use of both the school and public libraries. It is advised that differentiated reading material be used to foster a genuine sense of reading for pleasure and to help pupils who may be experiencing difficulties to grow in confidence and enthusiasm for reading. Further consideration should also be given to the choice of class novel. A balance between raising pupils’ interest levels in reading and the development of discrete literacy skills would be important factors for consideration. A structured, co-ordinated whole-school approach to the teaching of reading is recommended.
Pupils engage in both functional and creative writing activities and write in an age-appropriate register of language. Daily and local news features as does story writing and some poetry composition. As part of the early intervention programme pupils in second class engage purposefully with interactive writing between pupil and teacher. Pupils are encouraged to compose simple sentences as a means of developing their ability to write independently. The work in this area is highly commendable. Writing activities in the other class settings should provide for more regular independent writing opportunities focusing on writing for a wider audience and using a range of genre. In doing so, the skill of drafting and editing should be further emphasised. In some classes, pupils observe the conventions of grammar, punctuation and spelling in their writing. However, greater emphasis should be placed on the conventions of print in the senior classes to establish greater accuracy in their written work. The implementation of a whole-school approach to spelling would generate greater fluency in writing tasks. Letter formation and handwriting skills are keenly developed. The implementation of the school plan for handwriting as pupils progress through should be given greater attention.
The school has the services of a full-time learning support teacher who is shared with a neighbouring school and a part-time resource teacher. A comprehensive learning support policy had been devised which details the staged approach to intervention to assist pupils with special educational needs (SEN). Support is provided in literacy and numeracy primarily on a withdrawal basis whereby pupils are taken either individually or in small groups from classes for focused tuition. Alternative methods of delivering this support such as in-class work and team teaching with mainstream teachers has been initiated. This good practice promotes the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs in all classroom activities.
The quality of teaching pupils with special educational needs is praiseworthy. Detailed individual pupil learning programmes are prepared based on the identified needs of individual pupils in consultation with class teachers, and in some cases, parents and outside agencies. Structured and purposeful teaching strategies are adapted appropriately and suitable resources are deployed to support learning. A systematic approach to detailing the progress of individual pupils and the achievement of their learning targets is employed. Ongoing consultation between class teachers and support teachers in a commendable feature of the programme. In general, while good practice is in evidence certain features of the learning support programme need to be revised. The selection of pupils for learning support, the allocation of the pupils to the appropriate support setting, the extension of the early intervention programme and the appropriateness of in-class support in other curricular areas should be addressed. In this review the role and responsibilities of the learning support teacher should be clarified.
A number of newcomer pupils whose home language is not English attend the school. Pupils are withdrawn for support teaching aimed at developing their English language proficiency. Lessons observed were well-structured and practical with effective use of the resources available. Plans of work are prepared. The current language programme employed should be supplemented by additional support material provided by Integrate Ireland Language and Training. Pupils’ progress could be further monitored by creating a language portfolio for each pupil which would also help to determine their specific language needs. While both language support teacher and mainstream class teachers work consistently in a collaborative manner, greater emphasis could now be placed on consolidating the specific language taught in both settings. Additional resources could also be deployed to support more fully the language programme.
The methods of assessment used in SPHE as outlined in the school plan include teacher observation, teacher-designed tasks and tests, portfolios and projects. Teacher observation, samples of pupils’ work and completed tasks in copybooks and worksheets are the main methods utilized by which teachers keep track of pupils’ progress. To ensure a systematic recording of each pupil’s success in SPHE it is advised that the school should seek to formalise its procedures for recording pupil progress.
Assessment tools employed by the staff to monitor pupil progress in English include teacher observation, checklists, work samples, teacher-designed tasks, diagnostic tests and standardised literacy tests. The Drumcondra Standardised Test is used as a literacy screening test and identifies pupils with special educational needs. While results of standardized tests are recorded and maintained accurately, it is recommended that greater emphasis be placed on the analysis of test results in order to track pupil progress and provide a whole school perspective on pupil achievement in reading. Teachers give an oral report on pupil progress to parents at parent-teacher meetings. It is recommended that the school furnish formal annual written reports to parents in accordance with circular 0138/2006.
Future development of sphe and english
Scoil Mhuire succeeds in creating a positive learning environment where pupils are valued and respected. The principal, teachers and ancillary staff engage with pupils in a supportive caring manner. The pupils are courteous, confident and respectful and their constructive attitude and behaviour is indeed praiseworthy. There is a high degree of collaboration and teamwork among all members of staff and pupils benefit fully from the teaching and learning experiences provided. With a view to further developing aspects of the school the following recommendations have been made:
Ø It is recommended that staff engage in ongoing active planning with the intention of reviewing organisational policies and curricular plans. Further development of the school plan would provide greater clarity and direction for the implementation of policies.
Ø It is recommended that further emphasis be placed on the strand Myself and the Wider World to ensure the delivery of a broad and balanced SPHE programme.
Ø It is recommended that a whole-school structured literacy programme be developed in a coordinated manner to further enhance teaching and learning in English.
Ø It is recommended that greater emphasis be placed on process writing using a wide range of genre and for a variety of purposes.
Ø It is recommended that the school should formalise further its procedures with regard to assessment in SPHE and in English and furnish parents with written reports on their children’s progress.
Ø It is essential that the Child Protection Policy and other related policies be reviewed and disseminated accordingly.
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. It is anticipated that the composite report on the quality of teaching and learning of SPHE will serve as a valuable reference at system level and will inform the further development of policy and provision for the teaching of SPHE.
Táthar fíorbhuíoch d’fhoireann agus do bhainistíocht na scoile as a gcuid tacaíochta le linn na hoibre seo.
Sincere appreciation is expressed to the staff and management of the school for their cooperation during the evaluation.
Published, June 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
We welcome the opportunity to partake in the Evaluation of English and SPHE.
It enabled us as a professional staff to review current practice and to incorporate new ideas and fresh approaches in the education of our pupils. We appreciate the acknowledgement of the positive atmosphere in our school and we are also pleased that good practice and academic achievement has been noted in the curricular areas.
We have always engaged in on-going active planning and continuously review organisational policies and curricular plans. In the school year 2007/2008 the staff availed of three PCSP cuiditheoiri and will continue to avail of their services as part of our on-going professional development. However, we are mindful of maintaining a balance between our professional Development and teaching responsibilities.
We noted inconsistencies between the verbal Post-Evaluation feed-back and the final written report.
We as a Board, fully endorse the response to the findings and recommendations. We would like to take this opportunity to compliment the Principal, Staff, Pupils and Parents’ Association of our school on excellent standards and a positive friendly atmosphere. We look forward to the future with renewed hope in the commitment of all concerned in the running of our school.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The child Protection Policy was reviewed at the School Planning Day on March 3rd 2008 and a draft policy has been presented to the Parents’ Association and Board of Management.
In relation to issuing written records to parents, we are awaiting the NCCA Report which is not yet published.
Guímís rath Mhuire orainn í gconaí.