An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Saint Joseph’s Senior School
Balcurris, Ballymun, Dublin 11
Uimhir rolla: 19583I
Date of inspection: 14 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 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 Saint Joseph’s Senior 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.
This senior primary school is located in the northern sector of the suburb of Ballymun in Dublin city. The urban area is currently experiencing redevelopment and major regeneration with many homes of pupils being upgraded from homes in hitherto mainly multi-storey flat complexes to newly constructed single house dwellings. This co-educational senior school caters for the educational needs of 202 pupils in mainstream classes from third to sixth. Projected enrolment figures indicate an overall downward trend in numbers. The cohort of pupils represents the usual balance between boys and girls. The school benefits from a variety of Department of Education and Science schemes including participation in DEIS and the work of the Ballymun Education Support Team, which supports a school completion programme. The school aims to provide a secure and stable learning environment for its pupils. It implements proactive strategies dedicated to the promotion of school attendance such as presenting a ‘pupil of the month’ award for each class and giving a treat for Friday attendance. In addition school lunches are provided with funding from the Department of Social and Family Affairs. The school’s management prioritises the need to provide nutritious school breakfasts and lunches for the pupils in its care, to the extent that bread is baked daily in the school’s well equipped kitchen and food is sourced with nutritional values to the fore.
The work of the entrepreneurial school principal is acknowledged in the manner in which the kitchen has been fitted out to a very high standard. The deeply committed staff, guided by the strong leadership of the principal in collaboration with the wider school community, works tirelessly to deliver a quality education for the pupils in their care This is evidenced by the fact that the school is open from eight o’clock in the morning for serving breakfast and for music practice. A defining feature of the school is the high status given to music in the life of the school. The school boasts an orchestra, which incorporates a full instrumental music programme and a school choir. This work is of the very highest calibre as noted by the team of inspectors when they attended musical performances during the in-school evaluation period of this report. The deeply committed music teachers on the staff and those external to the school are highly commended for their dedication to this creative work. The school’s educational mission can be encapsulated as follows: that the pupils would come to school with a violin strung over one shoulder and a football kit over the other. The school is contributing and adding educational value to the overall achievement and attainment of the pupils through the deep commitment of the staff as a whole in what often can be challenging educational settings. While the school does not have a parents’ association affiliated to the national parents’ council, the school provides structures through which parents can contribute and become part of the life of the school. For example, a group of parents is currently attending music classes for adults in the school. This can form the basis for future parental involvement. The staff represents a balance between experienced and newly qualified teachers. Many of the former are long serving in this school which adds valuable stability and continuity to the work of the school community as a whole.
It is evident that good use has been made over the years of various grants from the Department of Education and Science which are targeted towards the provision of educational resources to support quality teaching and learning in Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE). An excellent range of teacher created and commercially produced educational resources exists to implement the curriculum designed to meet the specific needs of the children in the school. The available visual resources reflect the educational diversity of the school community. Innovative use is made of the corridor display areas to reinforce positive behaviour amongst the pupils in the school. This goal is further supported through the prominent display of a contract for positive behaviour and a set of agreed class rules in the classrooms. The implementation of a comprehensive Discipline for Learning scheme is well underway. The educational charts on display remind the pupils of the strategies which are taught for resolving conflict. These are used to very good effect by the pupils at all levels. The visual presence of the latter affirms the creation of a positive school climate. Good use is made of the communal areas outside adjoining classrooms in celebrating the work of the pupils in SPHE along with other curriculum areas.
Within the classrooms, the layout of the children’s desks supports group work in almost all cases, through a combination of traditional and contemporary arrangements. Additional classroom space is used creatively to support activities such as circle time. The resource of the school yard is very effectively managed and supervised by the principal, members of staff and special needs assistants (SNAs) during recreation periods. The spacious school hall is used innovatively for a variety of creative classes which in turn supports the implementation of positive values among the pupils as encouraged by the SPHE curriculum. The staff works as a unit to reinforce the values of mutual respect within all the learning settings in the school. For example, the presence of the principal in the yard during break times supports good behaviour among the pupils and minimises conflict as does the playing of football in a dedicated area in the school yard. This practice is highly praised. The school has a dedicated post of responsibility for SPHE. The work of the post holder includes overall responsibility for the management of the delivery of SPHE in the curriculum. This report recommends that the role of the post holder should be expanded to include the presenting of a brief progress report to the staff during its end of school year staff meeting. Very good work is acknowledged in the maintenance of the grass, trees and shrubbery which surround the entrance to the school and other areas. Of particular note is the memorial garden in which trees have been planted to remember deceased past pupils. The work of the school caretaker, the team of cleaners and that of the school secretary is acknowledged in the maintenance of high standards throughout the school. However, the external signage is one facet of the school’s presentation that needs upgrading. This report recommends that an entrance sign be positioned which clearly indicates the main entrance door of the school for visitors. It should be visible from the entrance gate.
With reference to the provision and use of resources in English a range of resources for oral language development is identified in the school plan and a good selection of these resources is available in each classroom. A core reading scheme has been agreed and this is augmented by appropriate parallel reading schemes. Additional resources have been allocated for the purchase of class novels, phonics schemes and library books. Three class novels, one at least by an Irish author, are covered in each class annually. Twenty copies of each novel are available in the school. The school library is very well stocked with a variety of texts which cater for a wide range of interests. The library also has a comprehensive reference section for teachers and an adult section for both teachers and parents. All classes visit the school library weekly. Some classes are brought to Ballymun Library, a practice which is commended and which the school intends to extend in the future. There is a class library in each of the mainstream classes. Most classrooms present as colourful and print-rich learning environments. Displays include work by the children in addition to charts, posters and labels provided by the teachers. In many classes teachers make excellent use of computers to prepare charts and flashcards and to generate teaching resources for their classes. Still more use needs to be made of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) by the pupils as it has the potential to enrich their learning. The special classes, learning support and resource classrooms are also highly-resourced with a suitable range of reading materials, word games, phonics schemes and posters.
The school policy document details the school’s approach to planning for the implementation of the SPHE curriculum in the school. The plan sets out aims, approaches and methodologies to be implemented by the whole staff. A variety of methodologies is described, inclusive of circle time and active participative approaches suitable for the curriculum area. Work is clearly delineated over a two year cycle in accordance with best practice. The whole school plan with reference to the Walk Tall and Stay Safe programmes is laid out in a clear and comprehensive manner. The section relating to the teaching of substance use is very comprehensive as is that pertaining to the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme. Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented these policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
The school plan, adopted since October 2002, should now be reviewed within a set targeted date as part of the normal cycle of school improvement. As part of that review process this report recommends that the link between the school plan and individual teacher’s classroom planning should be strengthened in order to assist the richer implementation of the SPHE curriculum in the classroom setting. This can be supported by the inclusion of the strand, unit and curriculum objective in individual teacher’s classroom planning. This process will be facilitated by making reference to the publication Making the Links, which can assist in this process as it is a practical guide to the use of programmes supported by the DES in the implementation of the SPHE curriculum. It is recommended that the reviewed school plan be divided into organisational, curricular and resource sections to facilitate ease of access to information and that sections of the school plan be clearly numbered and indexed. The current trend towards the adoption of a common approach to monthly progress report writing is highly commended as it facilitates a whole school approach to planning for continuity in learning. In turn, this report recommends that monthly progress reports could reference the strand, unit and curriculum objective dealt with during that particular month to complete the cycle of implementation .This process will facilitate the introduction of support and clarity in future planning. To date all teachers complete planning for the short term and the long term. The majority of the staff prepares the necessary educational resources to support the implementation of the curriculum as described in the short term and long term plans.
The school plan for English was reviewed collaboratively by the teaching staff in 2006. The stated purpose of the revised plan is “to guide teachers in their individual planning”. The vision and aims of the school for the teaching of English are identified and the plan commits the staff to ensuring that curriculum objectives are followed at each class level throughout the school. Teachers engaged enthusiastically in the planning process and have made effective use of support provided by the Primary Curriculum Support Programme in order to ensure that the plan incorporates all curriculum strands and that a wide range of methodologies and resources is utilised. The plan is structured in a way that outlines how oral language, reading and writing are to be covered in the school and this is laudable. The centrality of oral language across all subject areas of the curriculum is stressed. A three-year intensive programme for literacy development is underway. Common approaches to the teaching of reading throughout the school have been agreed and adopted. Among the features of the current literacy plan are: the use of discretionary time to increase the time allocation for literacy in each classroom, the promotion of print-rich environments in classrooms and in the display areas, encouraging reluctant readers to read through the provision of appropriate reading material, the organisation of book fairs and participation in MS Readathon . Broad objectives for the development of children’s writing ability are clearly set out in the plan and these objectives include enabling children to write clearly and fluently in a variety of genres and on a wide range of topics, many chosen by themselves, using appropriately-varied vocabulary and styles of presentation. The school has recently adopted the First Steps method of teaching writing. The unity of purpose which teachers display in the use of this approach ensures continuity and consistency through the school. The benefits of persevering with it should become more evident in improved standards among the pupils as the programme becomes more established The handwriting scheme in use is currently under review. The school plan also includes reference to resources and strategies for the teaching of spellings, grammar and punctuation. Lesson content and teaching methodologies for each class level are outlined under each strand unit. A number of organisational headings in the plan indicates how the school caters for pupils with differing needs, how it plans for the use of ICT, and how parental involvement, the fostering of community links and staff development are promoted. The criteria by which the staff will evaluate the success of the school plan for English are set out for oral language, reading and writing. Responsibilities are assigned to class teachers, Special Education Teachers (SETs), holders of post of responsibility, the Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator and the principal. A timeframe for review of the plan is also identified. An extensive appendix includes advice for teachers on the teaching of poetry for each class level, high-frequency words to be taught, reading strategies, and the First Steps approach to the teaching of writing and grammar to be covered in each class. It is recommended that this appendix be separated from the plan and included as a separate document so that the plan can be kept in a concise and accessible format. All teachers provide long term and short term schemes of work. At each class level teachers plan these schemes collaboratively. This practice is to be commended for the way it promotes a consistency of approach throughout the school. It also facilitates the sharing of experience, expertise and resources among colleagues. Monthly progress records are compiled by all teachers on a common template and these records are stored in the principal’s office. It is recommended that the template could incorporate the curriculum structure of strand unit and curriculum objective for greater clarity and continuity in teaching and learning.
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 mainstream classrooms and one senior special class setting.
Overall, the quality of teaching and learning in SPHE is good. The quality of the teaching observed in the middle classes is characterised by the establishment of very positive classroom atmospheres supported and underpinned by organisational and classroom management skills of a very high order. The remarkable range of teacher made and commercially produced teaching resources is utilised to the full to support active participative teaching approaches. Effective teaching methodologies and approaches observed include group work, the successful use of co-operative games, brain storming and checklists. The variety and interest engendered by the use of these child centred teaching methods ensure that the pupils are engaged and interested in their work at all times. Themes explored include friendship, feelings, and staying safe, to name but a few. The professionalism of the teaching in introducing thought provoking ideas using simple techniques is highly praised. Because of the quality of the planning and preparation, the pupils are on task and are active learners. They are engaged and involved in their own learning which has relevance for the pupils in this school. Pupils in the senior classes explore themes such as conflict resolution and approaches to decision making with good results. Pupils are guided to develop their abilities in decision making through group work and brainstorming techniques to good effect. For the most part, the work is well presented and the pupils are on task. The senior pupils are challenged to explore themes such as self identity and making healthy choices using a variety of traditional and innovative teaching approaches. The quality of the learning outcomes for the pupils is commensurate with the degree to which an individual teacher’s classroom planning makes reference to the strand unit and curriculum objectives in its content and to the extent to which active learning methodologies are employed. Hence, the relevance of the recommendations made in this report with regard to the criteria to be used during the review of the SPHE school plan as detailed previously. Very good use is made of ICT as a means to allow pupils record and present their work in SPHE in some classes. This should be extended to all class settings. Some excellent examples of the creation of power point presentations by pupils are acknowledged. This practice should be further extended throughout the school. Pupils’ work is monitored and assessed at all stages, with varying results regarding effectiveness. Some excellent examples of innovative methods of recording individual’s progress are noted and these should be disseminated throughout the school on a trial basis. Overall, the quality of the display of the pupils’ work in SPHE is of a high order.
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 six of the mainstream classrooms and in five support teaching settings.
Teachers make commendable efforts to ensure that their classrooms are bright and print-rich learning environments. In many classes they succeed in doing this by creating appealing classroom displays which incorporate charts and other visual stimuli covering a variety of topics. A judicious blend of commercially produced posters and teacher made resources ensures that the displays are relevant to the work being covered at each class level. Children’s work is exhibited in the classrooms and in the display areas throughout the school. In most classes, displays are changed regularly to reflect current and recently completed work.
Thoughtful lesson preparation ensures that appropriate resources are provided for the English lessons. Lesson material is drawn from a range of sources, including textbooks, library books and the internet. Teachers prepare differentiated versions of worksheets in order to cater for the varying ability levels within their classes and to give each child the opportunity to succeed at the tasks set. In a number of classes teachers use ICT effectively to create suitable resources for use with their classes. Computers are also used in some classes by the children in their writing and for research purposes. Admirable use of ICT to present new material to pupils by the teachers was observed. In addition, a number of pupils are learning how to use ICT in order to present their own work in English. This use of ICT by the pupils needs to be extended and developed in all settings as previously stated. Lessons observed during the evaluation were well structured; all curricular strands were included and opportunities were availed of for integration with other curricular areas. The systematic use of programmes to develop children’s oral language skills and the use of good questioning and class discussion facilitate pupils’ active participation in lessons. Reading material is presented in an interesting fashion and most teachers make very effective use of guided reading strategies. Children demonstrate a willingness to engage in the stimulating educational activities provided.
Children’s copybooks and classroom displays show that a good range of writing tasks is completed in each class. The co-ordinated whole-school emphasis on the development of literacy has a tangible and beneficial effect and brings continuity to the work covered. Support teachers work closely with mainstream class teachers and plan their programmes to augment and reinforce work undertaken in the mainstream classes.
The primary and main approach adopted in assessing individual pupil’s progress in SPHE is teacher observation as recommended in the curriculum. Additional methods employed include the use of individual profiles, the compilation of work portfolios and samples of pupils’ work over a period of time. Most teachers maintain individual profiles of pupil’s progress which is laudable. This practice should be further extended throughout the school. The educational challenge is to devise a means of recording those informal teacher observations in a user friendly fashion. To their credit, some teachers have devised their own excellent in-house method of recording individual’s progress based on the relevant curriculum objectives. The possibilities inherent in this practice should be explored during a staff meeting. The possibilities afforded by ICT and digital technology in managing the assessment of work in this area should also be explored. The progress made by individual pupils through the year is reported to parents through the standard end of year report card. The greater the variety of assessment modes used in this area the greater the range of information recorded. Hence, more use should be made of portfolios and specific teacher designed tasks as outlined in the curriculum to further extend the quality of assessment in this curriculum area.
Throughout the school, teachers use a variety of methods for the assessment of children’s progress in English. Teacher observation is the most frequently used method. Other forms of assessment used include the keeping of detailed checklists of oral, reading and written language skills, regular spelling tests and tests of sight vocabulary, and the retention of samples of children’s work in portfolios. A selection of appropriate standardised tests is administered annually at each class level. These tests are used for the screening of pupils for support teaching. The range of assessment modes in use is commended. Taken together they provide detailed information on children’s learning strengths and needs. This report recommends that consideration be given to exploring ways in which some of the valuable information gleaned through teacher observation could be recorded and shared among mainstream and support teachers.
Further diagnostic testing is carried out by Special Education Teachers (SETs), using suitable diagnostic tests. Children are selected for support teaching in accordance with the Learning Support Guidelines. Individualised plans are drawn up following analysis of results of testing. These plans indicate pupils’ learning strengths and identify priority learning needs. Parents are invited to meet with SETs when these plans are being formulated. Class teachers are given copies of the plans.
Children’s attainment on standardised reading tests are broadly in line with Non-Reading Intelligence Test (NRIT) scores, indicating that, in general, they are reading at appropriate levels. Analysis of children’s attainment on standardised tests throughout their time in school allows teachers to monitor the children’s progress closely. This analysis also shows that most children either maintain or improve their scores on these tests in the course of their time in the school, and provides evidence of the effectiveness of the English programme in the school. Children whose scores fall are targeted for extra teaching and support. The practice of analysing and tracking children’s progress in this way is commended as it provides very valuable information on children’s progress in a format which is clear and comprehensible.
The overall level of teaching and learning in SPHE is good. The hard working and committed staff is adding value to the lives of the pupils through the provision of a secure learning environment. The school’s plan for SPHE is due for review and recommendations are made in this report as to how the process could be best completed. In English a comprehensive literacy programme is in place and steady progress is being made in the ongoing development of oracy and literacy skills among the pupils. Good progress is evident especially on the raising of standards in writing as the children are enabled to write in a variety of genres. The quality of school life is enhanced by the care taken in the provision of the school breakfasts and lunches that are available to all the pupils. In addition, the profile of the school is enriched in no small measure by the opportunity afforded the pupils of participation in the school choir and in the school’s comprehensive instrumental music programme. The carry over from the training received in the former work to other curriculum areas is evident as observed by the inspection team and as reported by the staff in the form of raised self-esteem and improved listening and concentration skills among those participating children. This outcome is highly praised and its continuance is educationally and socially most valuable.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development the following key recommendations are made:
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.