An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
St. Mary’s N.S.
Lahinch, Co. Clare
Date of inspection: 07 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 21 June 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 were involved in the evaluation in St. Mary’s N.S., Lahinch 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; a response was not received from the board.
St Mary’s National School is situated in West Clare in the seaside resort of Lahinch. It is a five teacher co-educational national school availing of the services of a learning-support teacher and a resource teacher. The school also receives assistance on a part-time basis from a language-support teacher for international pupils and a home school community rural co-ordinator. The school serves the local town community and pupils also attend from the adjacent townlands. There are currently 120 pupils enrolled and it is expected that numbers attending should remain close to this figure in the immediate future. The school is under the patronage of the Catholic bishop of Galway, Kilfenora and Kilmacduagh and the school’s mission statement reflects a Catholic ethos. The school is a member of a five-school cluster involved in Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme. The existing school building was constructed in 1963. An additional three classrooms, toilet suites and a computer room were added in 2006.
The overall atmosphere in the school is child-friendly and welcoming. Pupils are very well mannered and interact appropriately with teachers, fellow pupils and visitors. Classroom management is of a high order with classroom rules in place and specific duties are assigned to individual pupils on a rota basis. Great care is taken to ensure that all pupils are included in all activities. Pupils respond very well to questions, answer confidently and offer their opinions with ease and assurance. Pupils’ school attendance is very good. The school is also involved in many extra-curricular activities including water safety, the Green Schools’ Environmental Project, Enterprise Ireland Junior Achievement Scheme and the Fruit for All scheme. It is evident that the school receives very good co-operation and support from parents in all of its activities. The board of management, principal, post-holders and staff are commended for their efforts in promoting the inclusive atmosphere that prevails in St. Mary’s National School.
The school is in very good condition. The grounds of the school consist of a concrete play area, basketball court, grass play area and a small football field. The school and its environs are all maintained to a very high standard. The caretaker, staff and pupils are commended for their efforts in ensuring the school is presented at its best. The school and, in particular, the recently constructed classrooms are bright and well presented. Photographs and newspaper articles highlighting the successes of present and past pupils are displayed in the corridors of the school. The school is at present acquiring artefacts for its local history museum. This museum is presented in purpose-built cabinets in the main entrance hall.
The school is well equipped with resources for learning in SPHE and English. Teachers use a wide range of resources including Bí Folláin, Stay Safe, Walk Tall, Socially Speaking, and Action for Life and Relationship and Sexuality Education programme. These resources are effectively used by teachers in all classrooms. A range of posters and some videos is also available for use. This school has access to valuable assistance from the home-school community rural co-ordinator for five hours and forty minutes per week. In conjunction with her duties, the co-ordinator does very good work in implementing the programme Socially Speaking and in assisting pupils and teachers to engage in circle time activities.
The teachers also avail of resources from the wider community. In the recent past the school had visits from the fire brigade, the environmental officer of Clare County Council and other personnel involved in environmental issues. In addition, the school organised field-trips to the beach and to the recycling facility where talks on environmental topics were delivered. The curriculum co-ordinators for SPHE plan and oversee these trips. The teachers deal sensitively with social, personal and health education issues in conjunction with the relationships and sexuality education (RSE) programme. This programme is delivered by the teachers and has been supplemented by an input from the district nurse during the current school year. External support provided to the school is carefully planned and monitored by the principal and staff.
The board of management is commended for its investment in purchasing a wide variety of up-to-date books and reading material to support the teaching and learning of English. As a result individual class libraries and the central dedicated library area are very well-stocked with picture books, supplementary reading schemes, large-format books, fact and fiction books, CD Roms and a wide range of language games and literacy aids. An inventory of English and learning-support resources is included in the whole-school plan to support the effective implementation of the English curriculum. A state of the art computer room has also been developed with 30 networked computers, which enables class teachers to integrate Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) effectively with the English curriculum. The commitment of individual teachers is praiseworthy for their conscientious efforts in producing a plentiful supply of personally-produced illustrative aids, sentence strips, flashcards and stimulating print-rich environments. The standard of display, incorporating teacher-designed visual prompts, pupils’ art work, written work and project work, is very high in each classroom
The SPHE whole-school policy was devised by the staff and ratified by the board of management in 2003. This policy was reviewed in 2007. The policy is based on the structures and principles of the Primary School Curriculum (1999). The policy is comprehensive and takes into account the three curricular strands of the SPHE programme. An appropriate level of emphasis is placed on the development of all strand units. The delivery of the programme is over a two-year period and the programme of work for each class grouping is clearly set out based on the curricular objectives for each respective class group. The policy sets clear parameters for continuity and progression from class to class. A copy of the SPHE plan is provided to each member of the teaching staff. Parents may access school policies through the principal’s office. A policy on RSE is available and the RSE committee included parents, board members and teachers. Many other organisational policies support the SPHE plan. These include policies on enrolment, code of behaviour, anti-bullying, equal opportunity/gender equality, critical incidents, class and classroom allocation, brief absences, school attendance, supervision, induction of new and infant pupils, health and safety issues, ICT and internet use, a healthy eating policy and a parental complaints’ procedure. Some policies are presented to parents when pupils are enrolled in the school and this practice is commended. It is reported that the parents’ representatives on the board of management present views of parents to the board. To further assist in the development of parental input into the area of school planning and into other aspects of school life it is recommended that the board of management encourages the establishment of a parents’ association. The school should also consider making parents aware of the content of the SPHE programme for each of the classes on an annual basis.
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 whole-school plan for English has been reviewed on two occasions following its original development in 2000. Individual elements of the plan reflect the principles of the Primary School Curriculum (1999) and have been refined as a result of collaborative discussion among staff. This work has been effectively coordinated by two teachers with special-duty responsibilities. The plan stresses the importance of the process writing approach, the systematic teaching of spelling, the development of good letter formation, the development of a cursive style of handwriting and the use of ICT. The final plan is comprehensive, coherent, practical and very clearly laid out and has been formally ratified by the board. The advice and support of the Regional Curriculum Support Service (RCSS) has also been beneficially used. A parents’ night was recently organised to explain, demonstrate and provide information for parents on shared reading. The school plan has a positive impact on whole-school approaches to the teaching of each strand of the curriculum and on the importance of reading and writing as core elements across each curricular area.
All teachers engage in long-term and short-term planning and maintain monthly progress records. Short‑term planning is largely content-based and The Primary Planner Handbook is used by all mainstream teachers in seeking to develop consistency at whole-school level. It is recommended that the format and content of individual teacher planning be discussed at whole-school level and consideration be given to the inclusion of elements such as expected learning outcomes, approaches and methodologies, differentiation, assessment techniques and resources. In SPHE there is evidence to suggest that this planning builds on the level of pupils’ prior learning. In English weekly planning progress reports and comprehensive individual learning programmes have been developed for pupils experiencing learning difficulty and special educational needs. These programmes include specific and relevant learning objectives and are appropriately informed by the results of standardised and diagnostic tests. Plans are discussed with parents in line with the whole-school learning-support policy and the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs policy.
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. The quality of teaching and learning in SPHE is very good throughout the school. All classes have a discrete time set aside for SPHE and it is evident that during the year, teachers use their discretionary time to further develop aspects of the SPHE curriculum. Lessons observed were based on the curricular objectives as set out in the teachers’ planning and in the whole-school SPHE plan. During the lessons observed teachers used a range of active learning methodologies. Very good use was made of circle time which is very well developed throughout the school. Other methodologies used included group work, pair work, co-operative games, discussion and whole-class teaching. There is limited use of drama during SPHE lessons. This is a strategy that should be expanded in the future. Lessons presented were well constructed and clear learning objectives were set. The lessons were designed to engage the pupils in topics, many of which were linked to events in the pupils’ own experiences. Many lessons were integrated well with other curricular areas especially in the teaching of oral language and in Social, Environmental and Scientific Education.
All pupils are encouraged to take part in the SPHE activities organised and pupils express their thoughts and ideas confidently while respecting the opinions of others. The school is commended for the very good interpersonal skills developed by the pupils and the ability shown by them to express their feelings using a wide and suitable vocabulary. Pupils show great respect for each other and their teachers. The pupils have a very good understanding of environmental issues which are promoted well through the Green Schools’ Environmental Project and other initiatives undertaken by the school and the local community. A healthy eating policy is very well implemented in the school with all pupils partaking daily in a Fruit for All scheme which has parental support.
Classrooms are very well presented and are clean, well structured and portray a visually stimulating learning environment. All classrooms have displays of pupils’ work which are closely related to the themes being developed in SPHE and, in addition, classrooms have specific SPHE areas. Teachers have made very good use of classroom space to enable pupils form groups and to facilitate the use of circle time.
Pupils are also encouraged to partake in a range of co-curricular and extra curricular activities. All pupils take part in a jog or fast walk exercise each morning prior to starting formal classes. The pupils also engage in football, golf, swimming, school tours, quizzes and fundraising activities to support the Third World. Carol services at the old folks’ home are also organised. The school is commended for its work in developing the pupils’ awareness of the plight of people in the wider world.
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 three support teaching settings. Pupils in senior classes were invited to complete a short fifteen minute creative writing task.
A central role is given to the planning, development and specific teaching of pupils’ oral language skills in different social contexts in all classrooms. The very focused and structured oral language lessons presented greatly complement the integrated approach to language teaching. Language games, co-operative games, pair work, brainstorming, drama and circle time are effectively used to develop turn-taking skills, pupils’ memory skills and the listener-speaker relationship. Other effective interactive approaches used include talk and discussion, stories, play and games, poetry and rhyme, language games, teacher-designed differentiated oral language tasks, pair-work using visual stimuli, brainstorming and improvisational drama. Teachers are commended for their collaborative efforts in enriching pupils’ vocabulary. Pupils greatly benefit from the opportunities provided to compare and contrast different stories and poems read. Pupils are competent in their responses and can speak confidently about topics and themes studied and provide good arguments to support particular points of view. The European Language Threshold Framework is effectively used to reinforce the international pupils’ classroom work thus improving their grasp of sentence structure and vocabulary.
Reading is effectively taught and pupils’ attainment rates are very high, as displayed during the evaluation and in the most recent standardised tests completed. Although 15 pupils have been receiving learning-support in the current school year, very few pupils are eligible for additional supplementary support, in accordance with the criteria outlined in the Learning-Support Guidelines (2000), due to the considerable progress being made by pupils. It is recommended that the existing caseload of pupils should now be reviewed and more intensive support be directed to the small number of pupils with the greatest priority need. The move towards the implementation of an integrated model of in-class teaching support in infant classes is praiseworthy. This practice could beneficially be extended.
Print-rich displays are a feature of all classrooms and corridors. Commendable emphasis is placed on the systematic development of phonological and phonemic awareness activities and the acquisition of emergent reading skills. Word games, phonics games, matching activities, flashcards, sentence strips and teacher-designed multi-sensory activities are very effectively used at various work stations in infant classes. Pupils co-operate very well, display very good turn‑taking and independence skills and have acquired a broad sight vocabulary in these classes. Pupils display well-developed higher-order skills in their ability to explore, compare and retell stories read using a suitable range of large-format books. Effective use is made of graded reading schemes, parallel readers, library books, newspapers, uninterrupted sustained and silent reading (USSR) periods and the novel, as pupils progress through the school. Reading activities are appropriately differentiated in most classes. Questioning is differentiated, comprehension skills are taught and pupils are given very good opportunities to respond to the novel. Almost all pupils read fluently and with expression and understanding. Shared reading is promoted among parents and between classes. It is recommended that a graded formal structured reading programme using flashcards and word walls should be used with some pupils to complement the reading of various novels and to develop their fluency and comprehension skills in a systematic way.
Overall, the teaching of writing and handwriting is of a high standard in this school. A praiseworthy emphasis is placed on the promotion and implementation of the writing process in all classes. Most pupils possess a very good understanding of the conventions of grammar, punctuation and spelling, which are appropriately taught in context. As soon as pupils have mastered a basic competence in typing skills, they are encouraged to use ICT to draft, re-draft, edit and publish their writing and to research topics using broadband and the internet. The school’s success in this area is attributed to the use of daily free writing experiences using approximate spelling and illustrated texts from infant classes upwards. Other success factors in evidence include the emphasis placed on proper formation of letters and pencil hold and the very structured language-based lessons presented. This oral language focus provides a strong scaffold and framework for pupils’ writing. Pupils are also given an appropriate degree of autonomy in choosing their writing topics. Pupils have written letters, lists, poems, limericks, imaginative and factual stories, scripts, projects and book reviews. Topics chosen relate to the pupils’ own lives and experiences and also span a range of other curricular areas, especially SESE and SPHE. Pupils’ writing efforts are displayed in classrooms and corridors using a large variety of class and individual booklets and through the compilation of process writing portfolios. Cursive handwriting is currently introduced from third class onwards. It is intended to introduce cursive handwriting from second class upwards during the current school year in accordance with the guideline provided in the whole-school plan. The school’s involvement in initiatives such as World Book Day and the Write-a-Book Project provide an additional motivation for pupils. Well‑known authors are also invited to work with the pupils at various times. The positive learning outcomes and quality of writing and related art work displays produced as a result of these initiatives are laudable.
The school’s core rationale, as outlined in the discrete assessment policy developed, is to ensure that all pupils experience success. The main strategies used to assess pupils’ in SPHE and English are teacher observation, teacher-designed tasks and tests, homework, regular monitoring of pupils’ written work and the maintenance of individual pupil portfolios.
In SPHE folders of the work of the pupils consisting of completed worksheets, writings and drawings are maintained in all classrooms. Project work is also used effectively as a method of assessment. Pupils’ progress is discussed by teachers informally and at staff meetings. Pupils also engage in self-assessment and further opportunities should be provided for pupils to develop this area. A whole-school approach to assessment of SPHE should now be formulated. Careful consideration should be given to what teachers will observe and record with regard to pupils’ progress, achievements, skill development and attitudes in SPHE. Other methods of assessment that should be considered include checklists, pupil profiles and the use of anecdotal notes. The assessment section in the curriculum documents will give additional guidance in this area. The agreed approaches should be recorded in the whole-school plan.
In English the main assessment strategies used are complemented by the completion of the Micra-T standardised test, from first class upwards. Additionally, individual teachers have developed portfolios of pupils’ writing samples and well-organised assessment folders incorporating a range of checklists, shared-reading records, parent-teacher meeting records and class test results. Spelling test notebooks and individual pupil folders are other effective whole-school practices used. Pupils in senior classes are encouraged to self-evaluate and edit their own work. It is recommended that this commendable practice should be extended.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
· There is a need to review the learning-support policy and to direct more intensive supplementary teaching support towards pupils with the greatest level of priority need. A number of pupils would also benefit from the structured teaching of a graded formal reading programme to complement the use of novels in the classroom.
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 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 na scoile as a gcuid tacaíochta le linn na hoibre seo.