An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Park Rd., Waterford.
Date of inspection: 07 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 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.
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 Waterpark National 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 the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.
Waterpark National School is a co-educational primary school under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Waterford and Lismore. This national school was established in 2001 with an enrolment of fifty nine pupils from junior infants to sixth class. This number has grown significantly since then and the current enrolment is 229. The school population is diverse and comprises of pupils from sixteen nationalities who have settled in the area.
The school is located in the former Christian Brothers Monastery beside Waterpark College on the banks of the River Suir. Most of this building had been unoccupied since the 1980’s, so much restoration and refurbishment work has been undertaken by the board of management since the establishment of the school in 2001. The board is commended for their dedication to the ongoing improvement of the building and its environs, and for making the most of current facilities. Along with the original building, a classroom and a resource room were built in 2006, and a number of prefabs also provide temporary classroom and resource room accommodation at present. The school consists of eight mainstream classrooms, offices for the principal and the secretary, rooms for resource teaching, learning support and language support, as well as a staff room. Classrooms are generally bright, comfortable and provide print-rich environments for pupils to learn. Classroom rules that have been devised by pupils themselves are displayed in the majority of classrooms. There are many attractive displays of pupils’ work around the building and these are of a very good standard, covering a number of subject areas
The space around the school has recently been tarmacadamed with financial support from the parents association. It is fenced off from the nearby river and provides safe areas for pupils during supervised recreation times. The school also has the use of the playing pitch, belonging to the secondary school next door, which adjoins the play area. Use of the gym is also available to the school for physical education lessons. Attractive areas have been painted on to the yard area to encourage games.
The staff comprises an administrative principal, eight classroom teachers, a learning support teacher, a resource teacher and two language support teachers. Three dedicated special needs assistants (SNA) cater for special needs pupils. The current level of staff allows for a deputy principal and four posts of responsibility. However, three of the posts of are currently vacant and have been advertised. This situation has arisen as two previous holders are no longer members of staff, and an extra post has been created because of growing staff numbers. SPHE and English are amongst the curricular and organisational areas which will form part of the duties in two of the pending posts.
An inclusive atmosphere prevails in the school and overall, school climate and atmosphere is positive and welcoming. This is in line with the school mission statement which is prominently displayed in the school. Overall there is good classroom management and pupils interact with teachers, visitors and each other with courtesy and confidence.
The board of management meets regularly and shows an active interest in the school. The chairperson reports that the board is aware of the needs of the school as it grows and is presently working on strategic planning for the future of the school and a permanent building. The board of management policy of supporting all staff members, both financially and otherwise, to avail of opportunities for professional development is to be commended. The parents’ council is also reported to be very supportive towards the work of the school through both participation in school events as well as fundraising activities.
The school is well equipped in terms of resources for the teaching of both English and SPHE. A list of all available resources for SPHE has been made available to all teachers. The main resources recommended include Walk Tall, the Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme, Stay Safe and Be Safe. Effective use is made of these resources in many classrooms. A variety of DVD’s, videos and commercially produced posters is accessible in the school. Teachers also avail of resources from the local community and beyond. Included in this are visits from the Gardaí, health workers, members of the defence forces and members of the local fire service, all chosen to deal with specific aspects of the programme. Any external support availed of by teachers is carefully planned for, researched and monitored to ensure suitability. A variety of resources are available in the school to support the teaching of English. All classrooms have attractive displays which include teacher designed and commercially produced charts. Classroom libraries are well stocked and support the shared and buddy reading programmes which are organised in the school. Other resources include books and manuals for the teaching of phonics, Jolly Phonics Kit, large format books, reference books, activity books, reading comprehension spinners, oral language aids and games. Educational computer software is also available to support classroom activity. A wide variety of programmes are used to enhance teaching and learning in the special education settings.
The policy for SPHE was recently devised by the principal and staff. This plan outlines the aims of the SPHE programme in the school and recognises the three contexts - discrete teaching, school climate/atmosphere and linkage/integration – in delivering an effective SPHE programme. It is reported that during the current school year, staff are working on dividing the strand units for each class level over a two year period, as recommended in the SPHE curriculum. It is recommended that this be formally decided and adopted as soon as possible so that there is consistency in the delivery of the programme across all levels in the school. Among the organisational areas mentioned in the plan are community links, home links and staff training and development. A detailed policy on RSE was drawn up by the principal and the teaching staff. However, as a committee structure was not involved in devising this policy, it is recommended that it be reviewed with the inclusion of all partners in the process and the final plan disseminated to parents on completion. Amongst the other policies that support SPHE are the code of behaviour and policies on enrolment, healthy eating, critical incidents, yard supervision, acceptable use for ICT and a draft health and safety statement. The principal and staff have reported that they plan to continue to work on other organisational policies, including review of existing policies such as anti-bullying. This will be facilitated by the recent appointment of post-holders whose duties will involve coordinating the drafting of some of these policies. The board of management should formally ratify all plans and policies, and each should include a date for review. 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 English policy includes general aims, broad objectives, content and methodologies, a list of resources, assessment and record keeping, parental and community involvement, staff development and linkage and integration. It is a very broad policy and general in nature. To make it more useful, it is recommended that it is contextualised to the school situation and that it sets clear objectives for each class level. Reviewing the current policy to determine its usefulness in guiding classroom practice would also be worthwhile. It is important as part of this review to evaluate areas such as spelling, poetry and handwriting to ensure that the policy offers adequate guidance in these areas.
All teachers prepare long term and short term planning for SPHE. The quality of individual teacher planning is of a high standard in the majority of classrooms. In some classrooms, planning was closely linked with strands, strand units and curriculum objectives for SPHE. It is recommended that this approach should be adopted in all classes. Monthly progress reports are stored centrally by the principal and show all strands are covered, but with extra attention paid to the ‘Myself’ and the ‘Myself and Others’ strands. The development of the two-year implementation planner should help to address the need to increase the use of curriculum objectives in planning for SPHE and ensure a fuller implementation of the curriculum. In English, all teachers engage in detailed long-term and short-term planning, which is linked closely to the strand and strand units of the curriculum. In short-term planning objectives are clearly stated and guide classroom activity. Monthly progress records are maintained consistently by teachers. A review of these records would contribute to the assessment of the implementation of the English policy.
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. The principal and staff endeavour to create a positive and affirming school atmosphere, and they have succeeded as a positive learning environment prevails in all classrooms. Pupils are trained in the development of good manners and habits and are very welcoming to visitors. Caring relationships exist amongst pupils and between pupils and teachers and pupils are praised and acknowledged for efforts. Samples of pupils work in SPHE were on display in the majority of the classrooms and many pupils take great pride in discussing this. Teachers could consider assigning a designated area in their classroom for SPHE related activity sheets, pictures and projects. All teachers implement the SPHE programme and timetable it in line with the curriculum guidelines.
The quality of teaching in SPHE was very good in all the classes visited and lessons from each of the strands were observed during the evaluation. Generally, lessons were well structured and delivered with skill and confidence by the teachers. A variety of methodologies in line with those mentioned in the school plan were observed. Effective use was made of circle time activities throughout the school and it appears that this approach is being well developed. Pupils were keen to participate in talk and discussion at whole class level. Pair work, group work and cooperative games also featured in some of the classrooms and pupils engaged in activities with confidence. In some classes, teachers and SNA’s gave extra support to both pupils with special needs and those with limited English skills, in order to aid participation in the lessons. This practice is to be commended. Many lessons were integrated with other curricular areas, most notably with Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) and oral language. Worksheets are occasionally used to consolidate learning and in some classrooms these are kept in SPHE portfolios.
A broad range of opportunities is given to pupils at whole-school level to complement the SPHE programme and pupils engage in a wide range of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. Pupils take part in various physical activities including football, swimming and dance. Pupils represent the school in various events including art competitions and religious services. Successful fundraising takes place regularly for various local, national and international charities. Pupils have had links with pupils in other countries, including a recent project with a school in the Lebanon. This year the school intends to work on the ‘Green Schools Initiative’ and this will have positive benefits on environmental awareness and care. Pupils have also had the chance to participate in the ‘Junior Achievement Awards’ to great benefit.
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 general lessons are well structured, paced and presented with pupils actively involved in their learning. A variety of methodologies are employed which include paired work, group work, circle time, drama and games. Work is differentiated to meet the needs of the pupils with careful questioning and varied written work.
Reading is taught effectively and pupils’ attainment rates are high as evidenced from the standardised tests. Learning support is offered to pupils scoring below the twelfth percentile in standardised tests and also to some pupils scoring higher but for whom it is felt that short-term intervention would be beneficial. It is important to ensure that pupils’ most deserving of support receive an adequate level of support.
Oral language lessons are well taught through discrete oral language lessons and through integration across the curriculum. The children show confidence and willingness to share their thought and ideas with the class and the teachers encourage their contributions. The teachers carefully consider their questioning to promote participation and to challenge the pupils.
Pre-reading and writing activities are key features of the work in the infant classroom. The teacher engages the pupils in a variety of stories from big books and other sources and the pupils respond to careful questioning. While pre-reading activities are central to the work, it is school policy that formal reading begins in the first term of junior infants. It is worth revisiting this in view of the recommendations in the Curriculum for the introduction of formal reading at a later stage. Reading activities in the middle and senior classes are from the reading scheme and supplementary reading texts. This includes good use of novels in some classes. Shared reading with parents and buddy reading between classes is well established in the school. In some classes the pupils also engage in choral reading and in readers’ theatre, which bring the texts to life, and facilitates greater pupil participation. Displays add to the classroom environments and include letter of the week walls, sound walls and word banks. The Jolly Phonics programme is being implemented systematically through the school. First class also benefit from in-class support in phonics from a learning support teacher.
Functional and creative writing are undertaken at all class levels. Pupils’ are given a good opportunity to write for a variety of purposes and in a range of genres with methodologies such as brainstorming, story balls and internet and computer work used to stimulate the pupils. News, book reviews, letters, poetry and stories are amongst some of the genres observed. In most classrooms, pupils’ work is attractively displayed both in the classrooms and on the adjacent corridors. Activities are differentiated to suit the ability of the pupils with guided writing, shared writing, word banks, checklists and sentence starters used to support pupils. The variety in quality of handwriting and presentation indicates the need for emphasis throughout the school on handwriting and pencil hold to ensure greater consistency in standards. In the review of the English policy the school is advised to assess the current policy on cursive handwriting and the level of implementation, in order to ensure the effective development of handwriting skills through the school.
The system of support for pupils with special educational needs operates on both a withdrawal basis and in-class support. There is an early intervention programme with particular emphasis on phonics. Detailed Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) have been drawn up for each pupil in receipt of support and these highlight the learning strengths of the pupils as well as their priority learning needs and targets. The parents receive a copy of the ILPs and are also advised on ways to support their children at home. The targets are reviewed at the end of each term and new targets set if necessary. Teachers engage in comprehensive short-term planning and this guides their classroom activity. The interactions observed with the pupils receiving support were very affirming and encouraging and it was evident that the pupils enjoy the classes. One of the teachers is teaching Braille to pupils with visual impairment and her dedication in supporting these pupils is highly commended.
Over twenty-five percent of the pupils in the school are newcomer children for whom English is not their first language. Two language support teachers provide additional support to these pupils. All staff members demonstrate great sensitivity to the needs of these pupils and a commitment to their integration in the school. Both in-class support and withdrawal in small groups is available to the pupils in receipt of language support. IlPs are devised for each pupil. It is recommended that these contain more specific targets for the pupils. Resources are used appropriately to support the language programme.
According to the school plan for SPHE, assessment is mainly informal and the main elements of this are teacher observation, discussion, portfolios and projects and communication with parents. In the classrooms visited, teacher observation was the main assessment tool and this can be quite effective. Portfolios, folders and copies are also used to keep samples of pupils work. In some classrooms, teachers used simple checklists in order to monitor pupils’ acquisition of key skills, knowledge and attitudes at certain intervals during the year. Consideration should be given to implementing this type of approach on a whole school basis in order to formalise the existing system. This could then be used to inform the effectiveness of the SPHE programme in the school and could also provide a useful record which could be passed on to the pupils’ new teachers at the end of the school year. The assessment guidelines in the SPHE Curriculum should be used as a starting point for any review.
In English, formal screening is conducted using the Drumcondra Standardised Reading Test and the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST). The learning support teachers also conduct diagnostic tests. At present standardised tests are administered once a year in some classes and twice a year in other classes. It is recommended that these tests be administered once a year only and the school use diagnostic tests to determine the appropriate level and duration of learning support that is required by individual pupils. Tracking of pupils’ results and their analysis would help to show a clearer picture of where the needs are greatest. Class teachers also use teacher observation and questioning, teacher-designed tasks, checklists and the correcting of pupils’ written work to assess the progress of their pupils.
Waterpark NS is a caring school characterised by a positive, welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. The commitment, dedication and hard work of the principal and staff have ensured that the school is living its mission statement in the creation of a ‘happy, caring and secure environment’. Pupils are commended for their positive attitude and hard work. A broad curriculum is being implemented in both SPHE and English with very good standards of teaching and learning observed. Pupils are achieving high standards and commendable support is offered to pupils with special educational needs
A number of themes for the future development of the school have been identified and these include:
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.
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The School community at Waterpark National School welcomes the Inspectors report which affirms the good practice that exists in the school. The report also highlights areas in which the school can improve and makes suggestions in this regard. These suggestions are welcomed and have either been acted upon already or are scheduled to be acted upon in the near future.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
• A strategic plan has been devised to focus on the review and development of Curricular and Organisational policy areas. This plan has been enacted and already a number of policies have been reviewed and developed.
• The plans for SPHE and English are currently being reviewed in line with recommendations made in the report.
• An increased emphasis has been placed on handwriting and pencil hold through a review of that aspect of the English policy to include such activities as “Handwriting Week”
• The two-year implementation planner for the Strand and Strand units of the SPHE Programme has been completed.
• A system of tracking and analysis of standardised tests has been devised.
The Board of Management, staff, parents and pupils would like to thank the Inspectors for the constructive and helpful suggestions put forward in this evaluation of the work of the school.