An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Clogher Road, Crumlin, Dublin 12
Date of inspection: 8 February 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
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 the Marist 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; the board chose to accept the report without response.
The Marist Convent NS, situated on Clogher Road, Crumlin, serves the children of the parish of St. Bernadette and the majority of the pupils live locally. The school building dates from 1959 and the main school and a later extension are maintained in very good condition. The school is under the trusteeship of the Marist Sisters. Girls attend from junior infants to sixth class, and boys attend from junior infants to first class. The school also accommodates two Early Start classes. The majority of the boys subsequently transfer to the local parish boys’ school, Scoil Íosagáin, with which the Marist School shares a number of teaching posts. School enrolment was 264 at the time of this evaluation and has remained generally steady in recent years. In the context of the demography of the area at this time, this reflects the high regard in which the school is held in the local community. Staffing consists of an administrative principal, thirteen mainstream class teachers, one special class teacher, three learning support teachers, two Early Start teachers, a shared home/school/community liaison teacher, a shared support teacher and a language teacher for international pupils. The school has four special needs assistants and two child-care workers are attached to the Early Start classes. The school is one of a cluster of schools receiving support through the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) Programme. The school is also involved with the School Completion Programme and the Rainbow Programme. The school’s mission statement states that while Christian values inform school life, children of all denominations and nationalities are welcomed and this is apparent in the ethos and practices of the school.
The board of management meets on a regular basis and is clearly committed to the work of the school and the support of the staff in carrying out their responsibilities. The chairperson and principal are keenly aware of the needs and concerns of the school community and maintain ongoing contact in relation to school matters. School accommodation is maintained to a very high standard and the classrooms and ancillary areas are clean, bright attractive and welcoming. Displays celebrating the work of the children in the Visual Arts, English, thematic projects, Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE), SPHE and other areas of the curriculum are a feature of classrooms. The pupils’ work is also displayed along some of the school corridors. This good practice could be extended to other circulation areas of the school. All those involved in maintaining the school environment to such a high standard are to be commended. The school grounds, a combination of tarmacadam and grassy areas, are also kept to a high standard. The playground areas are carefully arranged to provide for the different age groups and activities of the pupils. The school is well equipped and resourced for all curriculum areas. Funds provided by the Department of Education and Science and the parents’ association are employed judiciously. The parents’ association actively supports the work of the school and assists with school events and fund raising. Liaison between parents and the principal also occurs in relation to matters of policy from time to time. The school shares the services of a secretary with Scoil Íosagáin. In the context of the size of the school, the diverse range of needs of the pupils, and the necessity to liaise with a variety of external agencies, the school board of management should pursue funding for a full-time secretarial post with the relevant agencies.
The programmes of SPHE and English are well provided for in this school. It is evident through the attention afforded these subjects that both SPHE and English are regarded as key elements of the curriculum in the work of the school. The school ethos, structures and organisational arrangements support the development of these areas of the curriculum. A wide range of teaching materials and resource books are available to support the implementation of the SPHE programme. These include the Stay Safe, Walk Tall, Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE materials), Alive O, Bí Folláin, Look After Yourself, Making the Links and Earthlinks. Visual aids, both commercial and teacher-made, worksheets, videos and DVDs and the pupils’ own work are among the materials employed in implementing the SPHE programme. An area highlighting SPHE themes and topics is a feature of classrooms and the pupils are generally familiar with the terms social, personal and health education, particularly in the middle and senior classes. Classroom rules, drawn up in consultation with the pupils are also a prominent item in most classrooms and it is evident that the pupils have a clear sense of what is expected of them, both in the classroom and during the unstructured playground times. The work of the support teacher and the home/school/community liaison teacher also contributes in a very significant manner to the promotion of a positive school environment. With the involvement of these teachers, behavioural issues causing concern are addressed and constructive relationships between home and school are actively fostered. Opportunities are taken during the course of the year to invite local community services, such as the health agencies, road safety personnel, Accord, the fire brigade, the Garda liaison officer and the dental nurse, to visit and talk with the pupils. These initiatives have been very successful. A green school committee has been established to promote greater awareness of the natural environment. To further promote the contribution of the pupils to the life of the school, consideration should be given to establishing a pupils’ council. Initially this could involve the pupils of the senior classes.
A vast array of resource material is available and constructively used in the delivery of the programme in English. All classrooms contain library areas that contain displays of suitable reading materials. These areas are supplemented by the school library which is housed in a converted classroom. The reading material in the library contains books in a wide range of genres and is well organised. The library is extensively used by the pupils and is instrumental in enriching their reading experiences. In addition many pupils also avail of the facilities provided in the local library. Other resources available include a range of commercially-produced material such as Chatterbox, Jollyphonics and Magic Emerald. These resources successfully complement teacher-designed materials in the successful and structured implementation of the oral language and phonics programmes.
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.
The commitment of the Marist School to the implementation of broad and relevant programmes in SPHE and English is evident across the school. Each teacher has a copy of the school plan, where policies and procedures, including those pertaining to SPHE and English are set out. In SPHE, the objectives and methodologies set out in the school plan are based on the Primary School Curriculum documents and the programme is implemented over a two-year cycle. Detailed policies have been drawn up to address the issues of behaviour, relationships and sexuality education (RSE), substance misuse, child protection, anti-bullying, health and safety, the administration of medicines and the acceptable use of computers in the school. The RSE policy was drawn up by a committee representative of school management, parents and teachers. Greater links with home have been identified as a priority for the development of SPHE/RSE in the school. Consideration should now also be given to re-establishing the RSE committee, in the light of the need for ongoing review of RSE policy in the context of the emerging concerns and needs of the pupils of the school. The task of co-ordinating the SPHE programme is assigned as one of the duties of a teacher with a post of responsibility. Among the duties of the co-ordinator is the further development of the school plan for SPHE, the dissemination of information regarding new publications and developments in the area, and the identification of suitable courses for staff training purposes. In the context of the of the development of the SPHE dimension of the work of the school, it is recommended that opportunities for staff training identified by the SPHE co-ordinator should be pursued by individual staff members or groups, where practicable.
The school plan also addresses a range of areas which impact on SPHE and the child’s experience of school generally. These include policies on the school philosophy and aims, home/ school/ community liaison, the Educational Support Project, partnership between home school and community and a school homework policy. Each of these policies contributes to the development of good communication, positive relationships between school and home, and the fostering of a supportive school climate for the pupils.
The school plan for English has been developed after an extensive consultation process involving all staff members. The overall aims of the English programme are clearly stated and the objectives laid out in each of the strand areas are content based and skill based. Provision is made in the plan for assessment procedures. The plan is praised for being very action based and it is extensively used through the school as a working document that informs all short-term and long-term planning. The plan identifies priorities for development taking school context factors into consideration. It is also regularly reviewed and updated. The assignment of staff roles and responsibilities, especially in the area of reading development, is clearly defined in the plan.
Individual teacher planning in SPHE and English is of a high standard and teachers make good use of the resources acquired by the school. It is evident that there is a high degree of co-operation among the staff, with a view to the sharing of ideas and materials and the facilitation of continuity and progression through the school. The collaborative approach to the process of planning adopted in the Marist school contributes significantly to the development of a school environment which is conducive to the pupils’ growth and learning across all areas of the curriculum.
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 six of the mainstream classrooms. A noteworthy characteristic of the Marist School is the positive climate that is a feature of classrooms throughout the school. The efficient organisation and careful management of the school, together with a focus on learning for all pupils, contribute to the provision of a secure, inclusive and attractive learning environment. The respect for pupils demonstrated by the staff is reciprocated by the pupils and open constructive communication is in evidence in classrooms across the school. The role of the principal, teachers and special needs assistants and the parents of the children in fostering and supporting this positive learning environment is to be commended.
Most of the classrooms provide SPHE-rich environments where the work of the pupils is celebrated and themes and topics are presented through teacher-made and commercial materials. Lessons are well organised and teachers display a wide range of skills in engaging pupils in the lessons presented. Lessons are carefully pitched at the pupils’ level and are differentiated to cater for the range of needs and abilities in the class. While a review of teachers’ monthly records indicates that all strands of the SPHE curriculum, Myself, Myself and others and Myself and the wider world, are explored, the school has noted that the implementation of the third strand, dealing with the themes of developing citizenship and media education requires further review. Issues pertaining to an awareness of oneself and others are purposefully explored and a sense of individual responsibility is encouraged. An awareness of safety, in the home, the school and the wider community, and in various contexts, is carefully promoted at all levels. Taking care of my body and healthy living are afforded particular attention and are given practical application through the promotion of healthy lunches and the provision of opportunities for physical activities during the school lunch breaks and in after-school activities. In the middle and senior classes particular attention is given to themes of responsible decision-making, and making choices for a healthy lifestyle. The themes of growth and change, friendship and relating to others, are all are given due and careful attention and pupils demonstrate good knowledge and awareness of topics discussed in class.
Active methodologies are employed effectively in implementing the SPHE programme in classrooms. Approaches include circle-time, discussion, games, story, poetry, drama, and the use of materials and items such as newspaper stories and television programmes. Strategies to promote co-operative learning are evident in some classes and these approaches could usefully be extended across the school. Pupil participation and engagement in the lessons were of a high level and their efforts and contributions are affirmed. Issues are discussed with the teacher and with peers and the teachers avail of opportunities to promote relevant SPHE related vocabulary. The majority of pupils succeed in listening to their classmates and in recognising different points of view. Where appropriate, linkages with the lives and experiences of the pupils, their families and the wider community are sensitively pursued. The themes, topics and issues identified and explored during discrete SPHE lessons are addressed further in other areas of the curriculum and the teachers actively pursue these opportunities for integration. The use of information and communication technology (ICT) in a collaborative context in the classroom setting could also provide further opportunities for the extension of SPHE related skills among the pupils. Across the curriculum provided throughout the school, pupils are afforded a range of opportunities to support the development of self-awareness, responsible decision-making, a healthy lifestyle, the capacity for friendship and the ability to relate well with others, the development of awareness of the wider community and of care for the environment.
The quality of provision in English was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching and learning, a review of samples of pupils’ work and interaction with pupils in 6 of the mainstream classrooms and in 4 support teaching settings.
A very positive learning atmosphere is in evidence in each classroom and all teachers endeavour to affirm pupils in the completion of tasks. Pupil/teacher relationships of a very high quality were observed and these relationships were characterised by mutual respect and trust. While space in many classrooms is limited each classroom is organised and managed to provide a stimulating learning environment for the pupils. Classrooms contain attractive displays of a wide range of pupils’ work.
A variety of teaching approaches and strategies is successfully used to develop the potential of pupils to become aware of language as listeners and users. Teachers at each level in the school are fully aware that the acquisition of language skills is central to the development of pupils’ literacy skills and thus appropriate emphasis is placed on this part of the curriculum through the skilful facilitation of discussion and the use of higher-order questioning techniques. This is done in whole-class settings, in group settings and in one-to-one settings.
Due care and attention are given to the oral, reading and writing strands of the curriculum. All lessons are well organised and structured to meet pupils’ learning needs. The classroom environment supports learning in the infant section through the provision of a print-rich environment, libraries and picture and large format books and this provision is built upon in succeeding classes in the school.
A wide range of contexts is used in the teaching of oral language and includes talk and discussion, play and games, story, drama, poetry and rhymes. Constructive use is made of commercially-produced materials but pupils also receive opportunities to talk about and discuss events that are related to their immediate environment. In infant classes rhymes are taught to good effect and pupils willingly recite individually, in groups or as a whole class while poetry is used productively in the junior, middle and senior classes to encourage pupils to discuss personal feelings towards a poem and to develop pupils’ moral and social consciousness. Pupils in all classes displayed confidence when expressing themselves orally and good listening skills were observed in the reception of language. Developing the pupils’ competence in language use needs further development especially in the area of choosing appropriate words to name and describe objects and actions and the development of a more increased sophistication in sentence structure.
As previously adverted to, reading has been specifically targeted by the staff of the school as a curricular area for specific intervention with a view to the overall raising of reading standards. A programme of action has been instigated, under the management of the special duties teacher with responsibility for English and her sub-committee, and the programme receives the full co-operation of the staff. It includes pupils experiencing a range of novels at each level and the development of consistent word-attack and phonics skills. Priority has been given to the selection of novels with a local background and with storylines that pupils can identify with. Pupils are encouraged to choose their own reading materials and dictation has been introduced as a regular class exercise. Parents are involved in an affirming role and also through involvement in shared reading activities. Progress is being constantly monitored and the outcomes, as measured using standardised tests, have been very positive. Pupils are now showing more confidence in their reading of previously unseen material and this progress is praised.
A very detailed plan for the development of writing has been devised and specifically refers to the writing activities and genres to be undertaken at each class level in the functional and creative writing areas. A handwriting policy has also been formulated and is being actively implemented in each class. The success of this initiative can be gauged from the quality of presentation of pupils’ work at each level in the school. Cursive writing is introduced in second class and the use of this style is encouraged for all writing activities in each subsequent class. The engagement of pupils in all classes in an extensive range of writing activities is praised. Teacher/pupil mentoring and conferencing take place on a regular basis, books and collections of the pupils’ writing are kept in the class libraries and portfolios of children’s writing are maintained.
Mainstream class work in English is ably supported by the special education needs team. The team consists of three learning support teachers and a language support teacher. Pupils are withdrawn from class for support and the organisation of the service is extremely well organised and co-ordinated. There is a high degree of collaboration and communication between the support team and the class teachers and regular meetings between the personnel involved in the education of each special needs pupil are held. There is now, however, a need to explore further models of delivery of this service and especially the provision of in-class support in certain situations. There is also a need for formal meetings to take place among the members of the special education team at agreed intervals to identify different levels of support and intervention that build on each other.
Teacher observation, portfolios of pupils’ completed tasks and worksheets, teacher-designed tests and projects undertaken by the pupils are among the main approaches employed by the teachers in keeping track of the progress of the pupils in SPHE. Folders of pupils’ work are maintained in all classrooms and the teachers take care in monitoring the progress of individual pupils. They are very knowledgeable in relation to the strengths and needs of the pupils in their classrooms and are appropriately responsive with regard to the children’s development and issues arising in the context of SPHE. Aspects of SPHE are discussed at staff meetings and teachers also frequently share insights on an informal basis. Building on the valuable strategies employed by the teachers in monitoring the acquisition of skills, attitudes and achievements of the children, consideration should now be given to the development of whole-school approaches for more systematic tracking of the pupils’ progress in the area of SPHE through the school.
Classroom observation of pupils is used to continuously monitor the progress of pupils in English. Observations are recorded and kept on file and these records are used both to inform practice and in feedback to parents. Standardised tests, including the MIST and the Micra-T are administered annually to the appropriate classes and results have been constructively used to target the improvement of literacy skills.
The Marist School has a clear and purposeful mission in its work with the children and the community it serves. The school mission statement makes clear that the welfare and development of the children are central to the school’s work and that meaningful relationships with the local community and with parents are valued and fostered. The principal and staff, supported by the board of management, demonstrate exemplary leadership and commitment in carrying the school’s mission into practice. This is evident in the programme of teaching and learning and the care for pupils demonstrated in classrooms across the school. It is clear that the Marist School provides a positive and inclusive learning environment where pupils have a wide range of experiences and opportunities to support their learning and development. The school effectively employs all the resources available to provide a rich educational experience for each pupil. A strong sense of community and partnership with parents has been established. Good communication is maintained between the principal, staff, parents and pupils. The school endeavours at all times to be responsive to the current and emerging educational needs of the pupils of the school community. The principal and staff are therefore highly commended for the quality of the educational service provided to the pupils of this school.
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:
· The methodologies employed to promote co-operative learning should be extended across the school.
· Wider opportunities should be provided for pupils to use ICT materials in the classroom context, employing the resources available.
· There is a need to formalise meetings among the personnel of the special education service team.
· Staff should consider the development of a whole-school template for short-term preparation.
· In oral language additional emphasis should be placed on the development of wider vocabulary and the use of more sophisticated sentence structures.
· Consideration should be given to the establishment of a pupils’ council, involving pupils from the senior classes, in the first instance. This could provide the pupils with opportunities to contribute in particular ways to the life of the school community.
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.