An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Scoil Naomh Muire
Farran, Co. Cork
Date of inspection: 3 December 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science undertook an evaluation of the learning and teaching in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and English in a sample of schools nationally. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
This evaluation was the third in a series of thematic evaluations of aspects of the primary curriculum and was 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 will focus on the teaching and learning in SPHE and English and on the quality of pupils’ achievement in these curricular areas. 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 Naomh Muire, Farran. 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 structured interviews with the principal and class teachers were conducted. Senior pupils and parents were invited to complete questionnaires with respect to issues related to SPHE. Representatives of the parents’ association were met and meetings were arranged with the chairperson and board of management. Drawing on the evaluations undertaken in the schools nationally, the Inspectorate will publish a national composite report on the quality of teaching and learning of SPHE in primary schools. Data from the questionnaires will be aggregated for the composite report.
Scoil Naomh Muire is the national school in the village of Farran, Co. Cork. Located in the townland of Aglish, in the barony of Muskerry, the school is under the patronage of the Bishop of Cork and Ross. It serves some 60 families and there are 98 pupils on roll. At present, the school is in a period of transition with the appointment of a new principal, and the appointment of an acting deputy principal and an acting post-holder. There are five on the teaching staff and the school has one special needs assistant. The school has a part-time secretary and a part-time maintenance person. The school was built in 1962 and extended in 1981. There are five mainstream classrooms, a general purpose room cum kitchen, a staff room and some small ancillary rooms. Outside there is a relatively spacious site with play space, a shelter and grass areas. There is a large field behind the school and this is available to the pupils for games and sports activities. The school is supported by an active and committed parents’ association and substantial benefits in the form of equipment and organised activities have accrued to the school through the work of the association. The organisation of savings in conjunction with the local credit union is part of the regular assistance provided by parents for the school.
A number of important contextual factors need to be mentioned. The school is located on a hilltop adjacent to the church. The school entrance is at a gradual bend on the public road with limited space for parking and a restricted view of oncoming traffic. It is apparent that there are notably hazardous conditions obtaining here most especially at opening and closing times. Safety provisions do not appear to be sufficient for the circumstances and this matter has been notified as an urgent issue to the Department of Education and Science with a view to informing the local authority. Staff parking is provided in the school yard and this presents some hazards also. Arrangements for entry to the school in the morning and issues of supervision and play areas during the break periods are among the issues that need to be reviewed as part of an overall safety and welfare audit that is recommended as a matter of priority for the school staff and the board of management. Elements of the heating, cleaning, maintenance and renewal of the school and its facilities should be taken into account in the process.
The school has a reasonable array of resource materials and books to assist it in the teaching of Social Personal and Health Education. These include material from the programmes Stay Safe, Walk Tall and Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) as well as other items. Textual and workbook materials from All Around Me and Earthlink are used as are photocopied pages from various sources. Some model and poster material is also used while pupils use folders and copybooks to maintain elements of work done. There are some displays and features kept in corridor areas and these include, for example, an aquarium. The range of modern resources such as new technology and items of equipment and display might be broadened to lend further interest and enthusiasm to the teaching and learning of SPHE.
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. Most classrooms have suitable charts, posters and teacher-designed visual aids on display which contribute to the creation of a pleasant learning environment. Commercial materials have also been purchased to support curricular delivery. Those classrooms that feature an area that is devoted to English create a print-rich environment and provide a display area for pupils’ work. While some work is presented in classrooms, most of the written work in English is attractively displayed in the main corridor. The infant classroom has a good supply of pre-reading material which includes a range of large format books. Other classes access additional books from the mobile library. While classroom libraries are, in general, stocked with a range of books, it is recommended that all libraries be regularly supplemented by newly published materials. It is also advised that a wider range of parallel readers be provided in the infant classroom and in the learning support room to further promote pupils’ independent reading. In some classes, pupils use information, communication technology (ICT) in the presentation of their written work and 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.
A substantial plan for SPHE has been devised by the teachers. An introductory section dealing with overall aspects is followed by a detailed series of notes on the strand units, content, lessons and resources to be used at each of the class levels. The school has a two-year time frame for implementing the programme. The plan envisages building effective communication within the school and maintaining good communication with parents by means of homework journal, regular newsletter and meetings. The school envisages a health promoting physical environment and the development of democratic processes. Integration of SPHE with other aspects of the curriculum is envisaged while related policies in regard to bullying, behaviour and discipline, enrolment, RSE, substance use, health and safety and child protection are perceived as important aspects directly related to SPHE. Approaches and methodologies are listed and various other considerations are mentioned. The plan does not appear to have been signed by the board of management.
While the plan is a valuable and important body of work containing many positive and enduring elements, it is not altogether apparent that the plan is an intrinsic feature of the life of the school. For example, communication, though it is emphasised in the plan, may not be as strongly developed in the school as the plan envisages. The development of democratic processes similarly may not be as significant in the school as the plan anticipates. It might be useful for the school to reconsider certain aspects of the plan and simplify aspects so that more tangible results may be achieved for the benefit of pupils and others. Communication, including communication of the outline of the school’s plans and policies to parents, seems to be an issue that requires attention as a matter of priority.
A comprehensive whole-school plan has been devised for the delivery of the English curriculum through the collaborative activity of the staff. It is not clear as to when this policy was ratified by the board of management nor is there a clear written indication as to when it may be reviewed. Consideration should now be given to this matter. The plan outlines an integrated language programme encompassing oral language, reading and writing. Clear content for reading and writing activities, phonics and penmanship is carefully delineated for the different class levels and this provides teachers with specific guidelines for classroom planning. As a further development of this work, greater clarity with regard to the oral language programme employed, the range of poetry taught and the use of the novel should be provided. Teachers prepare long-term and short-term schemes of work to provide pupils with a diverse range of learning activities. As a variety of practices is evident with regard to short-term planning, it is advised that a whole-school approach be adopted to ensure continuity and progression in teaching and learning. Monthly progress records are maintained consistently by all staff members.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken steps to develop a 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). A designated liaison person (DLP) has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines. A deputy DLP should be appointed and the policy should be signed by the board of management. The policy should be brought to the attention of parents.
4.1 Social Personal and Health Education
The quality of provision in SPHE was evaluated on the basis of the planning for this aspect of the curriculum in conjunction with observation of teaching and learning, a review of pupils’ work and interaction with the pupils in each of the four mainstream class groups. Some exercises and tasks completed by the pupils were also examined as were folders and copybooks maintained by the pupils. Topics and issues were also discussed with the pupils and overall elements of their work and engagement with SPHE were explored.
It is apparent that Scoil Naomh Muire seeks to foster an appropriate school climate and atmosphere. Pupils are given careful training in manners and behaviour. In the main, pupils display good attention to their lessons and suitable respect towards their class mates and towards adults. However, there are some issues of disciplinary and behavioural conduct that need to be managed with care, sensitivity and foresight. Of particular importance is the implementation of a balanced and challenging curriculum including provision for all areas of the curriculum as part of the ordinary work of the school. In addition, it is suggested that further supplementary activities might offer further benefits for better satisfaction and contentment with overall school life.
The formal lessons in SPHE are presented with care and with good regard for the curriculum. The pupils are given careful and methodical instruction and suitable opportunities are provided for circle time, discussion, pair and group work, and activities linked to SPHE. Many elements of the RSE programme are featured in the teachers’ plans.
The infant classes have ample opportunity to use the space in the general purpose room for circle time activity featuring talk, discussion, stories and situations that are devised to engage interest. Pair work is given suitable focus and pupils are challenged by their work. Music and photographs are used with skill to deepen interest in the lessons. The pupils are well trained to work and to benefit from their lessons. In the junior classes, the pupils are well able to respond to, and to engage with, topics of road safety by means of posters and pictures that show everyday situations relevant to the lives of children. The pupils enter into their tasks with enthusiasm and the work is productive and well focused. Good differentiation is made for the various groups and a varied methodology is availed of for lesson purposes. The pupils engage in drama and role play with energy and they enjoy and benefit from their work. Some elements of pupils’ own work, including for example small booklet compilations, are placed on display while some work is also featured in copybooks. Folders are kept for work pages that the pupils have completed. In the middle grades, the pupils are given opportunities to participate in group work with tasks assigned and procedures for reporting back group findings. The pupils take part willingly in the activities and they reveal good knowledge of topics that they have explored. Elements of the work are linked to poetry and to art and samples of pupils’ work are placed on display along the corridor. Linkage is made with Social, Environmental and Science Education and the food pyramid and healthy eating are featured usefully in the school generally. Some use is made of textual material and work pages from Walk Tall and RSE handbooks are used occasionally. The pupils maintain plastic folders for work pages and items that they have explored. Certain work pages are sent home for parental use with pupils. In the senior classes, topics such as safety, elections, healthy eating and classroom rules are explored with the pupils. The pupils have pursued individual tasks such as surveying particular facets of behaviour among their school friends as for example, the favourite drinks and foods of their peers. Particular elements of work are featured in copybooks and a number of lesson topics seem valuable and appropriate. In general, the pupils show interest in their work. Linkages with aspects such as bar charts in Mathematics seem productive. However, some pupils are not fully challenged and engaged by their work and it is recommended that there should be a higher expectation set especially in the selection of SPHE topics that will have high interest value for the pupils. For example, media studies could offer interesting possibilities for some of the pupils to explore and also provide themes for project work.
Whereas the school provides in various ways for SPHE, a number of strategies for advancing and developing the work might be adopted in the school generally so that teaching and learning in SPHE might be improved. Pupils’ independent work rather than photocopied work pages might be featured more commonly and more authentically for study purposes. Greater use might be made of copybooks for the consolidation of work over time. The school might give larger emphasis to the use of illustration for representation and expression on the part of the pupils. Classrooms might feature an area or corner labelled and designated for the display of SPHE related work such as class rules, posters and current topic features. The pupils’ own work such as pages, compilations, pictures and project material should be given larger emphasis for display purposes. It would be valuable for the pupils to have opportunities to play a larger role in the life of the school such as for example to have involvement in a whole school project or initiative.
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 and in one support teaching setting. In the delivery of the English programme, a good range of teaching methodologies was noted including whole class teaching, group work and pair work. In most instances, lessons are well-structured, paced and developed and content is suitably chosen for the age and range of ability of pupils. Some of the work observed was carefully integrated in other areas of the curriculum.
Appropriate attention is paid to the development of pupils’ oral language skills which are taught through discrete oral language lessons and across curricular areas. Commendable emphasis is placed on the development of pupils’ listening skills and in engaging pupils in talk, discussion and debate. Pupils are afforded opportunities to explore and respond to story to develop their confidence in language. In the infant classroom, rhyme and song is used productively to enhance oral language development. Greater use of the language experience charts would further complement existing provision. It is recommended that a common approach to oral language development be adopted throughout the school and this should be linked closely to the content objectives for oral language as outlined in the school plan. Pupils are exposed to a range of poetry and they engage actively in lessons by reciting rhymes and poems clearly and with expression.
Emergent reading skills are developed gainfully in the junior classes supported by the systematic use of a phonological and phonemic awareness programme. Word identification strategies are well taught and emphasis is placed on the development of a sight vocabulary based on the structured class reader. Library books and large format books are used judiciously to develop pupils’ interest in reading. However, it is suggested that a more extensive use of a range of reading strategies be employed to eliminate the need for a structured reading programme in the infant class. In other classes reading is based on the varied use of reading schemes, graded readers, library books and novels. Many pupils are independent readers and read with accuracy and good levels of fluency. To further consolidate existing provision it is recommended that a whole school approach to the use of the novel as a means of developing pupils’ reading skills should be explored. Shared reading initiatives involving parents are also undertaken in the infant classes and teachers have expressed an interest in establishing a buddy reading system throughout the school. Such initiatives are highly commendable.
Pupils engage in both functional and creative writing activities and write in an age-appropriate register of language. Worthwhile writing activities are evidenced in pupils’ copybooks. Daily, local and international news features as does story writing, some poetry and diary entries. From an early age pupils are enabled to compose simple sentences and they engage in a variety of workbook activities. Less emphasis on the use of the workbook would greatly advance pupil skill development. The language experience approach, if implemented to a greater degree, would provide more opportunities for younger pupils to engage in their own compositions and in the creation of individual or class books. Similarly, pupils in other classes should be exposed to more regular independent writing activities using a range of genre and for a wider audience. Letter formation and handwriting skills are keenly developed in junior classes. In general, pupils observe the conventions of grammar, punctuation and spelling in their written work and good handwriting is a positive feature in most classrooms. In the senior classes, pupils should be encouraged to practise cursive writing in accordance with agreed policy. Increased usage of ICT would further enhance and celebrate pupils’ writing.
The school has the services of a full-time learning support teacher. Learning support is provided primarily in literacy and numeracy. The system of support operates on a withdrawal basis whereby pupils are taken either individually or in small groups from class for focused tuition. The learning support teacher implements an early intervention programme by withdrawing the senior infant class for reading activities. This programme should be further extended to support pupils in the junior infant class. Individual profile and learning programmes (IPLP) have been devised for each pupil in receipt of support. A review of the IPLPs is advised to ensure that learning targets are based on pupils’ prioritised learning needs and that progress is recorded in a systematic way. A greater variety of teaching methodologies should also be employed to meet the educational needs of pupils. The interactions observed with the pupils receiving support teaching were affirming and encouraging.
The school plan for SPHE itemises pupil assessment under the headings teacher observation, teacher designed tasks and tests, projects and portfolios and self-assessment. It is apparent that the teachers have good knowledge of and insight into pupils’ work and progress generally. Observation and samples of pupils’ work are the main means by which the teachers keep track of progress in SPHE. The school maintains a report card for the eight year primary school cycle. There is need however for better mechanisms for tracking pupil progress in SPHE. These might include checklists, observational notes and occasional test results. The school intends to issue written end of year reports at the end of this school year and this is a welcome development.
The school plan identifies teacher observation, teacher-designed tasks and tests, portfolios, and projects as among the assessment tools employed to assess pupil progress in English. Standardised tests, namely Micra-T and Sigma-T, are also administered annually. The MIST test is administered at the end of senior infants. For the purpose of assisting in the identification of pupils with learning difficulties, consideration might now be given to the administration of this test at an earlier stage. Results of informal testing are maintained systematically by class teachers. While a school report card is in use, a more detailed profile of pupil progress across all areas of the curriculum is warranted. Parents are informed of their children’s achievements during annual parent-teaching meetings while the issuing of written progress reports is currently under consideration. As a further development of assessment procedures, the school might usefully direct attention to the plotting of trends and the creation of a whole-school perspective on pupil achievement in literacy and numeracy and use the analysis to devise future programmes of learning.
It is apparent that Scoil Naomh Muire is in a period of transition at present owing to significant changes of personnel and responsibilities. While the school has notable advantages such as a supportive and committed parents’ association, a close-knit school community, a collaborative staff and willing pupils, there are some important challenges ahead. The good teamwork and mutual assistance of the staff are significant factors to assist the school to meet future development needs. With a view to further developing the school’s work in SPHE, in English and in other respects, the following recommendations are made:
It is recommended that the plan for SPHE might be simplified and revitalised in some respects and aspects such as overall school communication might be reviewed for the benefit of pupils, parents and the wider school community.
It is recommended that the school should adopt some whole school strategies for developing teaching and learning in SPHE. These might include greater emphasis on pupils’ independent work in copybooks, the designation of areas in classrooms providing a focal point for pupils’ work in SPHE, and further emphasis on the display of pupils’ work in this aspect of the curriculum. A whole school project would offer scope for giving larger responsibility to pupils as they progress through the classes.
It is recommended that better systems for keeping track of pupil progress in SPHE and in English should be formulated for the school as a whole so that individual teachers may have assessment records to assist in monitoring progress on the part of individual pupils.
It is recommended that a whole school structured oral language programme be implemented throughout the school to ensure continuity and progression in the development of pupils’ language skills.
It is recommended that greater emphasis be placed on process writing using a wide range of genre and for a variety of purposes. A more extended use of ICT in the presentation of pupils’ work would further support and facilitate the development of pupils’ personal writing.
It is recommended that the school board and staff carry out an overall safety and welfare audit of the school and its facilities. This should incorporate issues of play and supervision, access to the school in the morning, staff parking, safety matters at the entrance to the school, and heating, cleaning, maintenance and renewal aspects. This might involve contact and discussion with the parents’ association and the local authority. The school may need to seek grant aid in respect of necessary works to the building and its facilities.
It is essential that the Child Protection Policy should be updated, signed by the board and brought to the attention of parents.
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science wishes to acknowledge the contributions made by the principal, the teachers, and the chairperson and board of management during the course of the evaluation. It is hoped that this report will be directly useful to the school as a basis for review and development of practice at school level. 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.