An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Scoil an Chroí Ró-Naofa
Castletownbere, Co Cork.
Uimhir rolla: 20004T
Date of inspection: 19 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 12 March 2008
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. 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 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 Scoil an Chroí Ró-Naofa. 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. 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 questionnaires will be aggregated for the composite report.
Scoil an Chroí Ró-Naofa is the primary school serving the town of Castletownbere and its hinterland in the Beara peninsula. It has eleven teachers on staff and there are also two part-time teachers. There are a number of special needs assistants full-time and part-time and bus escorts in addition to the school’s secretary and caretaker.
This school is the product of an amalgamation of the former boys’ and girls’ primary schools. Scoil an Chroí Ró-Naofa is accommodated in the old Mercy convent school which was refurbished and extended and the new building was completed in 2003. Located on an attractive and elevated site close to the church, the building is comfortable and reasonably spacious providing good facilities for education. In addition to classrooms and ancillary rooms, the school has a large hall or general purpose room. Outside there are four main play areas where pupils are given opportunities for recreational activity appropriate to their age levels. A key aspect of the school’s general approach is the special linkage fostered with parents based on its written policy that effective schools have good relationships with parents. Procedures to facilitate clear communication and mutual benefit are long established and these have led to a most supportive, well developed and purposeful rapport between the school and the parents’ association. Many elements are in place to underpin the relations with parents but at the core, communication and consultation are the mainstays of the positive and beneficial links with the parent body. A number of major benefits have accrued to the school from the support of parents and these include a splendid adventure playground, various items of equipment for the school, the arrangement of swimming classes and many incidental occasions when parents interact with and participate in school events. A feature of note is that the funds raised by parents contribute hugely to the substantial costs of transport for tours and outings that are incurred by the school’s location in the Beara peninsula. The school newsletter School Matters is a valuable communicative link with the wider community. The school and parent collaboration is clearly of exceptional merit and very beneficial for the good of the pupils.
There are now 203 pupils on roll. The school is close to the enrolment figure required for an additional teacher appointment. There are seven class groupings and first class is divided. There are four of the seven classroom groups with thirty or more pupils. In effect this means that some of the classrooms are noticeably crowded particularly when pupils with special needs with additional space requirements and special needs assistants are taken into account. The school has a number of pupils with special needs and insofar as is possible these are integrated very well with the mainstream classes. The school seeks to provide as best it can, and with precision and sensitivity, for the specific needs of all of the children on roll.
The school is very well organised both for classes and for recreation periods. There is excellent signage throughout the building and corridor and circulation areas are attractively laid out with notice boards, art features and displays of pupils’ work. The building is maintained in a very attractive and appealing manner while the school grounds are very well appointed and kept. A feature of note is the flagpole stand for the national flag, the school’s green flag and the Cork colours. The school’s crest featuring a book, a castle, a ship and a fish with the motto Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí is emblazoned on the main doors and is to be found in school documentation and other areas. The school is a designated disadvantaged school and is part of the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) initiative of the Department of Education and Science. The school is the base for a shared home school community liaison co-ordinator.
The school pursues an outgoing approach to participation in various events. Boys and girls play Gaelic football and participate in Sciath na Scol competitions. Athletics are part of the sporting activities and the school travels the long journey to participate in the Cork City sports as well as having its own sports day. Basketball and gymnastics are features of school activity while Irish dancing is also offered. The school participates in a range of local and community events including for example the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Other annual events include a Christmas bazaar by the pupils to raise funds for charitable causes of their selection.
A broad array of resource material and aids are used to assist in the work in SPHE. These include textual material, programme material such as Walk Tall, Stay Safe, Bí Folláin, Be Safe, Action for Life and various other materials from disparate sources. The school has certain audio, video and DVD items also as well as charts, posters and teacher made materials. Most of the classrooms feature an area devoted to SPHE with material on display reflective of lessons that have been done and also showing work of the pupils. Some of the classrooms feature class rules which have been drawn up in consultation with the pupils and involving in one instance a process whereby the pupils have signed their acceptance of the rules obtaining in the class. A designated area for SPHE is recommended for all classes while sets of class rules are also considered a useful practice. The school avails of the assistance of a range of community services to assist the teachers in particular facets of work such as for example, An Garda Síochána for road safety matters, the Fire Brigade for fire safety issues, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the Health Service Executive (HSE) for various aspects relating to health and welfare and including Relationships and Sexuality Education. An item of special interest recently for the pupils was the workshop visit of the Callino Quartet to the school in conjunction with the West Cork Chamber Music Festival.
A variety of resources is available in the school and is used to good effect to enhance pupils’ learning experiences in English. In general, these resources are readily accessible in well-organised classrooms. Charts, posters and teacher-designed visual aids contribute to the creation of a pleasant learning environment. Each classroom features an area that is devoted to English where pupils’ work is celebrated in attractive displays and where appropriate emphasis is placed on creating a print-rich environment. While classroom libraries are stocked with some books, the acquisition of further reading material is recommended. Overall, the resources that are available are being used to support pupils’ active engagement in the learning process.
The school has a detailed policy for SPHE in addition to a number of related policy documents that are linked with SPHE. These include Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) for which the school has developed an overall policy. Based on the Primary School Curriculum, the SPHE plan is usefully delineated and tailored to the specific needs of the school. A two-year programme cycle is envisaged with emphasis given to three contexts. These include a positive school climate and atmosphere that incorporate among other things effective communication, catering for individual needs, a health-promoting environment, developing democratic processes, enhancing self-esteem and fostering respect for diversity. One half-hour per week, or one hour per fortnight, is allocated for formal SPHE lessons. The plan provides for assessment, for children with different needs and for equality of participation and access. Other aspects of whole school planning are referred to and particular aspects are listed as cognate to SPHE implementation. Aspects such as staff development, parental involvement and community links are also taken into consideration while the ratification and communication of the plan and its review are provided for with care. Separate policy statements on child protection, substance use, healthy lunches, anti-bullying, code of behaviour, the health promoting school, and health and safety, provide substantial planning material to buttress aspects of SPHE. Overall, the school has devoted careful and considered attention to planning and it is apparent that the process of planning has involved all the teachers in consultation with the board and with parents. The planning is commendable for its authenticity and for its detailed provisions framed clearly with the benefit of the children in mind.
The teachers individually plan their lesson material and record monthly progress in SPHE. For the most part this is very obviously linked to the whole school plan and indicative of successful implementation across the strands. However, there is need to ensure that the focus of work remains clear and that there is reasonable coverage of all the strands at every level of the school.
A comprehensive whole-school plan has been devised for English through the collaborative activity of the principal and staff and in consultation with the parents and the board of management. This plan takes cognisance of the key principles of the curriculum. The plan outlines an integrated language programme encompassing oral language, reading, poetry and writing. Other aspects of the curriculum such as assessment, homework and resources are also addressed. While the plan offers a broad overview of the aims of each strand and strand unit, a clear delineation of content should be outlined for each class grouping. This would ensure continuity and progression throughout the school and provide teachers with specific guidelines for classroom planning. Teachers prepare long-term schemes of work to provide pupils with a diverse range of learning activities while a school template is used by most teachers to document their short-term plans of work. This template also provides a record of work undertaken monthly in each classroom. This practice of recording should be reviewed for the purpose of ensuring consistency and accessibility of information.
In considering the school’s planning documentation, it may be noted that holders of posts of responsibility do not take leading responsibility for aspects of the curriculum. It is recommended that this approach might be reviewed.
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.
4.1 Social Personal and Health Education
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. Most classrooms had an area designated for SPHE work and these featured poster and chart material, compilations of children’s work, samples of individual work, group work and survey data produced by the pupils. Formal lessons were carefully arranged with varied and stimulating teaching methodologies. At the junior level, circle time was used with skill and talk and discussion were suitably availed of to explore topics and to focus on particular items of equipment. Pupils were co-operative and well directed. Pupils were allowed opportunities for paired discussion and sharing of ideas. Opportunities for work in groups were commonly availed of in junior classes and the pupils were clearly experienced in adopting roles such as leaders, encouragers and reporters in conducting group work. Groups were varied from time to time and notably effective was the practice of having mixed groups where pupils were grouped with children from another class level. Concrete materials and visual prompts were freely used to lend stimulus to activities while cards and worksheets were used to maintain focus. Safety issues and the formulation of rules were themes of particular interest while dramatisation and imaginative role play were prominent activities. Pupils engaged with the activities with enthusiasm and interest. Views and points were elicited and discussed while appropriate modelling of particular aspects was given due emphasis. In the middle and senior groups, group work was also a common feature of classroom work though restricted circulation of the children within one classroom presented an obstacle of note for some activities. Real problems and issues are confronted in ways that are interesting for the pupils. Questions and topics relating to sport, leisure, diet and time management are introduced and explored with valuable results. Groups are carefully arranged with assigned roles while activity and dramatisation provide outlets for resultant viewpoints. Certain aspects of implementation might be further developed and strengthened. Some aspects of the work are usefully integrated with lessons in Science, English, History and other areas of the curriculum. Some absorbing work was undertaken by pupils in relation to surveying aspects of pupils’ own lives with valuable recording of results in graphic form using information and communication technology. Pupils show ready interest in topics studied and display accurate knowledge and good understanding of relevant issues. Aspects of government and citizenship are well featured and pupils manifest keen interest in material covered. Some elements of the pupils’ work are maintained in folders and the pupils can describe confidently and fluently features that have been examined.
Some elements of RSE are being implemented in collaboration with HSE personnel making use of particular resources. Current practice is easily discernible from the school’s planning material. The overall implementation of RSE should be extended.
A notable and beneficial feature of the work of the school is the positive school climate with particular whole school emphases. These include the Green School movement which has promoted recycling, litter prevention, composting and energy conservation. Spin-off benefits include the development of leadership and responsibility, decision-making, communication skills, community involvement and civic pride. The pupils have considerable experience of committee participation and representation. Activities such as the monitoring and arrangement of the recycling bins, the litter rota, and the healthy lunches promotion, provide valuable experiences to the pupils with particular benefit for learning and education. The school might consider establishing a school council for the pupils to further develop these activities. Another notable school activity is the arrangement under which particular pupils with special needs are assigned to particular class groups so that a rota of pupils may commit time at recreation intervals towards integration and play activities. This serves various purposes and permits the children to relate very naturally with all their peers. A notable feature of the pupils generally is their respectfulness, good humour and sense of fun in their interactions with each other and with visitors.
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 four support teaching settings. In the delivery of the English programme, a good range of teaching methodologies is noted including whole-class teaching, group and pair work. Lessons, in general, are well-structured and developed and include a range of appropriate learning strategies.
Commendable emphasis is placed on the provision of a whole language experience for pupils where oral language, reading and writing are integrated. Appropriate attention is paid to the development of listening skills and to engaging pupils in talk, discussion and debate. Pupils are afforded opportunities to explore and respond to an appropriate range of rhyme, poetry and story to develop their confidence and competence in using language. Review of the school’s English programme identified oral language as an area that merited further attention. A number of strategies has since been employed to assist in the development of pupils’ language skills. An information booklet for parents, which outlines suggestions for the development of their children’s language ability, has been issued. Additional support has also been provided in the junior classes as part of an early intervention programme. To further enhance this commendable work, greater linkage between the various language programmes would consolidate pupils’ learning and strengthen their oral language development. Monitoring and review of these programmes will also ensure ongoing development. Pupils in the senior classes display a growing competence in presenting and supporting arguments and most pupils speak articulately. Differentiated questioning is skilfully employed to engage pupils of all abilities in oral activity. Higher order thinking skills are also actively developed during the English lesson.
Emergent reading skills are developed gainfully in the junior classes where a print-rich environment is created. Pupils display age-appropriate phonological and phonemic awareness, a good knowledge of frequently used words and proficiency in word identification strategies. Teachers use song, rhythm and good visual example in supporting the development of pupils’ phonological awareness. A structured spelling programme is implemented in the middle and senior classes. In the school plan, a repertoire of poems has been identified as suitable for each class level. A commendable emphasis is placed on learning poetry and pupils recite a range of suitable poems with clarity and expression.
Reading skills are developed systematically through a range of approaches including paired reading, Children and Parents Enjoy Reading (CAPER) and the reading buddy programme. The latter is deserving of high commendation. This well-structured programme promotes peer tutoring and pupil engagement and it is also reported that pupils’ reading proficiency has improved considerably since its introduction to the school. While pre-reading skills are being developed through the use of the language experience chart, the absence of an appropriate range of real books and supplementary readers in the junior classes is acknowledged. A wide and varied range of books is required to ensure that pupils’ reading experience is enriched. Many pupils are independent readers and read with accuracy and good levels of fluency. Structured reading schemes are used consistently in the middle and senior classes. Teachers utilize the novel in order to stimulate interest in reading. However, it is suggested that a greater use of the novel would consolidate existing provision and further develop pupils’ reading skills.
A good balance is achieved between functional and creative writing at all class levels. Pupils are given the opportunity to write for a variety of purposes and in a range of genres using an age-appropriate register of language. Pupils’ copybooks indicate that worthwhile writing activity takes place. High frequency words from pupils’ sight vocabulary are displayed in classrooms and appropriate attention is paid to the display of pupils’ own written work. Daily news, book reviews, poetry and stories are in evidence. From an early age pupils are enabled to compose simple sentences independently and engage in a variety of workbook exercises. Older pupils display a growing elaboration and sophistication in the use of sentence structures when writing. Process writing features positively and pupils are afforded opportunities to develop the skill of drafting and editing. Pupils are enabled to develop a command of the conventions of grammar, punctuation and spelling and these aspects are monitored carefully by teachers. Further use of dictionaries to assist pupils in their personal writing may also prove beneficial. A designated writing area is a commendable feature of some junior classrooms. Letter formation and handwriting skills are keenly developed. Additional support is offered to pupils in first class to establish good penmanship skills. In general, pupils achieve good standards of penmanship and presentation of work. Increased usage of ICT would further enhance and celebrate pupils’ writing.
The school has the services of a full-time and a part-time learning support teacher, a full-time resource teacher and a part-time language support teacher. Learning support is provided in language, literacy and numeracy. A learning support policy has been devised by the staff. A review of this policy, in accordance with the Department of Education and Science learning support guidelines, is recommended. Particular attention should be directed to the criteria used in the selection of pupils for learning support. Resources are deployed to support teaching and learning in support settings. However, additional and varied materials would greatly enhance the overall delivery of this programme and ensure the use of a variety of methodologies and strategies. Detailed individual educational plans are prepared based on the identified needs of individual pupils. Parents and outside agencies are consulted during the process of design. A systematic approach to detailing the progress of individual pupils and the achievement of their learning targets is employed consistently. Individualised, structured and purposeful teaching approaches are adapted for these pupils. The interactions observed with the pupils receiving support teaching were very affirming, encouraging and of a very high quality. In some instances, pupils are withdrawn either individually or in small groups for support education. Some members of the support team work in class with mainstream class teachers as part of the early intervention programme and in support of pupils attending supplementary teaching. An extension of this practice is advised in all areas of the support education programme. Ongoing consultation between class teachers and support teachers is a commendable feature of the programme. This collaborative approach facilitates productive teaching and ensures continuity and progression in pupils’ learning.
A number of newcomer pupils whose home language is not English attend the school. Focused additional support in English is provided by a part-time language support teacher. Pupils are withdrawn for support teaching aimed at developing their English language proficiency. Informative plans of work are prepared. This language programme should now be supplemented by additional support material provided by Integrate Ireland Language and Training. Pupils’ progress could be further monitored by creating a language portfolio for each pupil which would also help to determine their specific language needs.
The SPHE plan includes teacher observation records, tasks and tests, and portfolios and projects for assessment purposes. For the most part, it is relatively easy to access assessment records and work samples of the children. In some cases, checklists have been maintained or are under way for showing content and skill development records for individual children. Compilations of work samples bound and displayed are readily to hand to show pupils’ work in some classrooms while hardback copies are used to excellent effect for elements of pupils’ work in some instances. It is desirable that all classrooms would have assessment records in some format to assist in the process of monitoring progress. Commendably, the school operates a written report system with an adapted final-year report of the school’s own design for transfer to post-primary school.
The school has devised an assessment policy and a helpful template to record ongoing progress of pupils. Other assessment tools employed by the staff to monitor pupils’ progress in English include teacher observation, checklists, work samples, teacher-designed tasks, projects and homework. The school has also developed a useful checklist to monitor the oral language development of pupils in junior classes. A number of screening and diagnostic tests, namely the Middle Infant Screening Test and the Aston Index are also used purposefully to identify those pupils who may be experiencing specific difficulties. A standardised literacy test is administered annually to assist in the identification of pupils for supplementary teaching. Results of formal and informal testing are systematically maintained and pupils’ files are passed from teacher to teacher as each class progresses through the school. Particular emphasis is placed on tracking the achievement levels of pupils with learning difficulties. Parents are provided with opportunities to discuss pupils’ progress and results at parent-teacher meetings held each year.
It is apparent that Scoil an Chroí Ró-Naofa is very successful in its implementation of the curriculum in both SPHE and English. It is to be noted that a very positive and educative atmosphere obtains in the school and that there is a high degree of organisation and method underlying all the school’s activities. Good teamwork and willing collaboration among the staff are notable factors in the school’s operation. Overall achievement in teaching and learning seems impressive. The principal and staff are to be commended for their commitment and dedication. The excellent relations that exist with the parent body are clearly a significant part of the school’s success and efficacy. With a view to further developing the school’s work in SPHE and English the following recommendations are made:
Some aspects of the implementation and assessment of SPHE including pupils’ own independent work might be further developed and strengthened.
The school should finalise and complete its review of RSE and implement its programme in accordance with guidelines.
It is recommended that additional and varied reading materials be provided in classroom libraries.
It is recommended that the school should review its policy and practice in relation to the provision of learning support in accordance with the Learning-Support Guidelines (2000) and particularly with regard to selection criteria.
The school should reformulate the responsibilities allocated to post-holders so that curricular areas and leadership, as distinct from organisational and pastoral responsibilities, might be more overtly specified as key aspects of responsibility distributed among the staff.
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.
The support given by the school staff during the evaluation is appreciated