An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
St. Kevin’s Boys National School
Finglas, Dublin 11
Uimhir rolla: 19197D
Date of inspection: 23 October 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 were involved in the evaluation in St Kevin’s BNS. 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. Senior pupils and parents were invited to complete questionnaires with respect to issues related to SPHE. Drawing on the evaluations undertaken in the schools nationally, the inspectorate will publish a composite report on the quality of teaching and learning of SPHE in primary schools. Data from the questionnaire will be aggregated for the composite report. 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 Kevin’s is a well-run boys’ national school catering for pupils from junior infants to sixth class. It is located within a large housing complex on Barry Avenue, close to the girls national school. Built in 1967, the school, comprising three floor levels and outdoor facilities, is well maintained by the caretaker. Inclusion in the DEIS programme provides for additional supports that are well used to the overall advantage of pupils and their families. Some of the additional resources help to provide a Home-School- Community Liaison teacher, enhanced pupil-teacher ratio, the School Completion Initiative and the Early Start programme. Other supports include special education teachers, language support teacher, special needs assistants, social worker, secretary and caretaker. A very effective community linkage is fostered through association with agencies such as Finglas-Cabra Partnership, Drugs Task Force, Dissolving Boundaries, An Garda Síochána, National Educational Psychology Service, Special Educational Needs Organizer, and the Educational Welfare Board.
Many strategies have been developed to improve home-school communication and to support parents in the discharge of their own responsibilities. The school staff regards SPHE as a valuable vehicle through which positive messages on matters of health, safety, personal development, confidence building, decision making, respect, leadership and citizenship can be mediated collaboratively in a pleasant environment. Pupils are generally well behaved and the policy on discipline and anti-bullying provides many opportunities for positive reinforcement of good conduct. Procedures are in place to deal with incidences of misbehaviour in a sensitive manner. The school is commended on its whole-school approach to planning and implementation of these worthwhile strategies and on its continuing success in the involvement of parents. While a significant number of pupils avail of additional educational supports good standards are achieved and contacts are established to facilitate the successful transfer to the post-primary system. Teachers are well qualified to discharge their duties and they have participated in numerous courses in order to update their knowledge and skills and to prepare more professionally for the different challenges that occur.
The school is staffed by a principal, seven mainstream teachers, one special class teacher, two learning-support teachers, one resource teacher, two teachers for traveller pupils and a teacher employed in the Early Start initiative. A home-school community liaison teacher, who is based elsewhere, works with families and schools in the neighbourhood. The school hosts a teacher supply scheme involving four teachers who are available for substitution work within a defined number of local schools. A visiting teacher for travellers fosters communication at many levels and is a frequent presence in the school. Other staff members who contribute greatly to the smooth running of the school include a secretary, three special needs assistants, a child care worker and a caretaker.
Teaching resources are plentiful in the school and the various grants are spent wisely in order to update equipment and to replace consumables as required. Some materials are stored centrally and others are distributed in classrooms for ease of access and more frequent usage. Classrooms are well kitted out and much of the resources are appropriate for curriculum support in an integrated fashion. Pupils contribute significantly to the supply of teaching resources through the use of completed work samples and by bringing artefacts, photographs and other items of interest to school. In SPHE teachers use the school grounds to good advantage as a focus for teaching and learning in matters of safety, citizenship, conservation, leadership, games, social development and confidence building. Other resource material includes CDs, videos, computer packages and numerous reference books and programmes provided by agencies such as Department of Education and Science, Health Service Executive, Department of the Environment, An Garda Síochána, Hope Education, Prim Ed, European Commission, and Church Authorities. Teachers avail of many opportunities to enhance teaching and learning by visiting carefully selected websites. The phased replacement of uneven, old-style desks is already underway and this will facilitate more successful implementation of curriculum especially in relation to group activities and project work.
The school is equipped with a well-stocked and well-managed school library. The School Books Grant Scheme for Needy Pupils is used to fund a book rental scheme in the school. The grant is augmented with funds raised locally and the school also runs an annual book fair to replenish and increase the school’s stock of books. All books are catalogued under the Dewey system. Pupils are trained as librarians and help to ensure that books are organised well in the library. Each class visits the library once a week and pupils are allowed to borrow books. A common reading scheme is in use throughout the school and a wide range of parallel readers is also available in each classroom. An additional stock of books has been acquired recently through the Reading Recovery programme and these books are used extensively by the pupils participating in the programme.
All teachers have been trained in the First Steps programme. The Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) Cuiditheoir has worked with the staff over the course of a year to develop plans and targets for each class level. Teachers prepare a variety of other texts for use in English reading lessons. These texts include a variety of genres and types of text, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, historical documents, menus, recipes, instructions and advertisements. The teachers also provide additional texts relevant to other curricular areas, including History, Science, Geography and SPHE. An application has been made to purchase computer hardware under the Dormant Accounts Fund and the school intends to develop the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for the teaching of literacy. This will also provide an additional means of publishing pupils’ written work.
School planning for both SPHE and English is led by two experienced teachers both of whom have responsibilities for these curriculum areas as part of their posts of responsibility. They liaise regularly with the principal and they initiate discussion and review of policy on a continuous basis. Curriculum is discussed at each staff meeting, and both SPHE and English have been prioritised for attention by the staff in the short term. Since the school’s opening in 1967, it has striven to be as inclusive as possible; it is proud of its success in catering for the needs of Traveller pupils and is well placed to provide for the growing numbers of pupils from other backgrounds and cultures. The school is participating in the DEIS programme and is categorised as a Band 1 school. The DEIS action plan focuses on the development of literacy and numeracy in disadvantaged schools, and a DEIS Cuiditheoir has provided sustained support to the staff over the past year in the use of the First Steps approach to literacy.
The SPHE plan, currently in draft form, sets out the vision and broad aims for the subject. Its content is detailed under headings such as strands and strand units, the two year cycle, context for SPHE, approaches and methodologies, assessment, programmes and policies to support SPHE, resources, teacher planning, staff development, parental involvement, community links, and success criteria. Separate policies on school attendance, substance abuse, gender equity, enrolment, code of behaviour, anti bullying, health and safety, communication, sexual harassment, inter cultural education, healthy eating, supervision, critical incidents and acceptable use of ICT are used to reinforce teaching and learning in SPHE and to ensure the smooth running of the school. Class teachers provide detailed short-term and long-term schemes of work in addition to the illustrative materials and work sheets available in the classrooms. These very valuable schemes are prepared with pupil learning in focus and take account of the particular circumstances that obtain in the class. Some teachers prepare daily reminders for clarification and for personal convenience. Stimulating learning environments are created and real-life situations are replicated for pupils through prudent use of these various resources. All teachers are vigilant in their provision for differentiation within the classroom setting and they are determined that the lessons provide for inclusiveness. Progress records are carefully maintained for the information of colleagues and to assist in future planning.
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.
A previous version of the school plan for teaching English was revised in 2000. The current version makes use of the planning template devised by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). This document is a thorough and thoughtfully prepared instrument which will guide the teaching of English in the school. All teachers have a copy of the school plan, and the plan is also made available to parents and to members of the board of management. At present, however, the document is not dated and it is not made clear in the plan when it was ratified by the board of management. The document should include both the date of ratification by the board and the date of the next proposed review.
The school’s vision for the teaching of English is ‘that all children will leave the school competent and confident in all aspects of literacy and that they will be enabled to avail of lifelong learning’. The plan shows how the school proposes to realise its vision. Curriculum planning is structured to ensure that pupils are afforded opportunities to experience a language programme that covers oral language, reading and writing. The plan outlines in detail the methodologies and approaches to be used for teaching each of these curricular strands. Emphasis is placed on linkage across the strands and strand units, and on integration of language lessons into other areas of the curriculum. A common approach to the teaching of discrete oral language lessons is indicated in the plan, as is guidance for teachers on the teaching of reading and on the use of process writing ‘to develop the child’s expressive and communicative abilities’. The use of First Steps is designed to ensure that six genres of writing are focused on over a two-year period. Common approaches and programmes to develop pupils’ phonological awareness have been adopted through the school, as has an agreed scheme for the teaching of handwriting. The staff is in the process of analysing pupils’ common spelling errors in free writing copybooks in order to compile a list of core spelling words to be taught in the school. This is a commendable project which will enable the pupils to write about the themes and issues which are relevant to them.
All teachers provide long-term and short-term planning for their work. This planning is structured by curriculum strand and strand unit. Monthly progress records are compiled by all teachers in a standard agreed format and copies of these are kept in the principal’s office. The level of detail in short-term plans varies from class to class, and ranges from very comprehensive listings of lesson objectives, methodologies, resources, differentiation and assessment tools, to concise listings of proposed lesson content. It is recommended that the use of a common approach to short-term planning be explored by the staff, in order to ensure that learning activities are matched more closely to the differing learning needs of pupils. In addition to the support provided by special education teachers (SETs), there is scope for greater differentiation of learning tasks in mainstream classes.
The principal aim expressed in the school’s learning support policy is “to optimise the teaching and learning process in order to enable and support pupils with learning difficulties to achieve adequate levels of competency and proficiency in literacy, numeracy and English as an additional language and social and communication skills”. The policy emphasises the importance of early intervention in order to prevent or minimise difficulties in learning, and recognises the key role of class teachers in helping pupils with such needs. The roles of the board of management, the principal, learning-support/SEN co-ordinator, class teachers and learning support teachers are outlined as are a comprehensive series of prevention and early intervention strategies. Specific review dates for both the English and learning-support policies should be set, to facilitate the staff’s evaluation of the effectiveness of these policies and to ensure that they satisfy future needs of the school.
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. Whole-class teaching is commonplace in order to launch a new lesson in SPHE though teachers were very successful in their handling of group activities, drama sessions, co-operative games, surveys and role-play activities. Pupils have contributed to the establishment of class rules and their self confidence in offering feedback is commendable. Very good examples of scene setting and circle time activities, as a means of provoking discussion and of consolidating salient messages, were witnessed and the work tasks were arranged so that all pupils could experience success. The pace of lessons was appropriate and favourable attitudes to themes such as equality, safety, health, charity, conservation and respect were developed. Pupils also gained valuable experience in decision making and in assuming leadership roles. There was much evidence of SPHE being integrated with History, Science, Drama, Music, language, Physical Education and Art in the classrooms and the enjoyment of pupils was obvious. Attractive samples of pupils’ work in SPHE were displayed in the classrooms for reinforcement and for cross-curricular integration, and other samples were preserved in portfolios. Most pupils demonstrate good development of knowledge, skills and attitudes across all strands of the curriculum and they can speak confidently about issues raised in their SPHE lessons.
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 five of the mainstream classrooms and in five support teaching settings.
Each teacher prepares lessons that facilitate the development of pupils’ oral language skills, reading and writing. Teachers endeavour to ensure that their classrooms are print-rich and stimulating learning environments. In all classrooms there are relevant and eye-catching displays, comprised of pupils’ work, teacher-designed materials and appropriate commercially-produced posters and charts. However in some classrooms there is an imbalance between the amounts of commercially-produced material and pupils’ written work on display, and it is therefore recommended that each teacher foster the display of a variety of pupils’ written work, and that these displays be refreshed regularly. The use of the First Steps programme and the focus on developing the writing process will provide opportunities for the increased celebration of pupils’ written work in the displays. Pupils’ attainment levels in reading are generally satisfactory and teachers are determined to effect further improvement through various programmes and whole-school initiatives. The targeting of the development of literacy at whole-school level has led to the introduction of a range of additional supports and activities, ranging from weekly timetabled shared reading for all pupils, to the Reading Recovery Programme for pupils who are experiencing the most difficulty in reading and writing. The Primary School Curriculum Teacher Guidelines inform the school’s approach to the development of comprehension skills. A broad range of texts is used and pupils are taught how to use a variety of comprehension strategies. Texts are read, reflected upon and discussed. Pupils are also given opportunities to respond in writing to texts encountered. The very focused approach which the school has adopted to the raising of literacy levels and the well co-ordinated use of appropriate programmes and strategies results in the provision of suitable lessons with clearly defined learning objectives. Teachers provide an appropriate range of additional resources for the teaching of English, and they employ a variety of lively teaching methods. Commendable use is made of teacher-designed worksheets and tasks. Effective whole-class approaches are complemented by the use of small-group and pair work, which helps to promote pupil engagement in learning activities. In general, tasks are set at appropriate levels for the pupils, though in some classes, more use of differentiated tasks would enable greater numbers of pupils to achieve success.
Assessment forms a central element of the school plan and the approaches detailed include teacher observation, tasks and tests, portfolios and scrapbooks, project work, and self assessment. It is also accepted that the principal, in his visits to classrooms, explores the application and achievement of pupils in an informal fashion. Teachers assess the social, leadership and decision-making talents of pupils on a daily basis and they use their findings to modify the composition of groups, teaching strategies and lesson content. Special needs assistants play a valuable role in the successful inclusion of pupils with special needs in the SPHE lessons and in their ability to achieve success in a stress-free environment. Information regarding pupils’ achievement in SPHE forms part of the feedback offered to parents and to appropriate personnel. Success criteria identified by the school includes the positive self-esteem evident in pupils, attitudes and values exhibited by pupils and the feedback received from other pupils, parents, visitors, the community and second level schools.
The school plan for English lists the following methods of assessment used throughout the school: teacher observation, teacher-designed tests and tasks, free writing, pupil portfolios and standardised tests. Evidence of each of these types of assessment was observed during the evaluation. In addition to the ongoing assessments and standardised tests used by mainstream class teachers, further assessments are carried out by SETs. These include tests of emergent and early literacy in junior and senior infant classes. Diagnostic tests are used with pupils who are identified as being in need of additional supports in literacy and the results of these tests are used to formulate individual and group learning plans for these pupils. Such plans are reviewed frequently, and pupils’ learning targets are revised as appropriate. The overall quality of assessment and record keeping in SPHE and English is high and there is evidence of a whole-school commitment to further improvement
The following are the main strengths identified in this evaluation:
· The principal teacher displays great leadership qualities and he is proactive in his encouragement of colleagues and in the promotion of SPHE and English throughout the school.
· Very valuable strategies to promote good behaviour and attendance have been developed by the school.
· The achievement of pupils and the desire of staff members to effect further improvement is commendable.
· Lively teaching methodologies help to create favourable learning environments and to motivate pupils.
· The special needs assistants, secretary, caretaker and child-care worker contribute in large measure to the welcoming atmosphere, the smooth running of the school, the successful inclusion of pupils with special needs and the promotion of health and safety.
· Teachers devote considerable time to planning and researching suitable lessons in SPHE and English and they display a willingness to explore new initiatives.
As a means of building on these strengths the following recommendations are made:
· The school policy documents for SPHE, English and Learning Support should indicate clearly when they were ratified by the board of management and the intended review dates.
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science wishes to acknowledge the contributions made by the principal and teachers 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.
Published June 2008