An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Bunscoil Gleann Sidheáín
Cappoquin, Co. Waterford
Date of inspection: 19th October 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 Bunscoil Gleann Sidheáin. 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.
Bunscoil Gleann Sidheáin is a mixed mainstream National School situated in the town of Cappoquin, Co. Waterford. The school was established in 2002 when the Mercy Primary School and Cappoquin Boys NS amalgamated, and moved to its present building in March 2004. There are 200 pupils currently enrolled. Enrolment has shown steady growth over the past number of years and this trend is expected to keep pace with continuing housing development in the area. The school is located in a new building which consists of eight mainstreams classrooms, support rooms, a staff room, library/computer room, an office each for the principal and the secretary as well as a general purpose room with servery and storage area. All areas are bright, spacious and well maintained. Much of the pupils’ work is displayed on corridor and common areas and presentation is of a good standard.
The entrance area to the school is welcoming and clean and visitors are greeted with tri-lingual signage in Irish, English and Polish. Samples of art are displayed effectively in the entrance foyer and there is a special place for ‘The Wall of Infinity’ on the approach to the school. This was a work of art sculpture commissioned to mark the opening of the new building and was designed and built by a local artist following consultation with the pupils. Each pupil has a personal drawing inscribed on the stone structure.
The school grounds are particularly attractive and are maintained to a very high standard. Plaques and memorabilia from the old schools have made attractive features within the new grounds. The building is surrounded by two good-sized play areas and a large playing pitch. The senior play area was extended with the aid of a grant from the ‘Clár Playground Enhancement Scheme’ following completion of the school building. Game areas were painted on the junior yard area with the support of the parents association. A porch area provides shelter from the rain.
The chairperson of the board of management believes that a building maintained to a high standard will permeate and lead to general high standards within the school. The board subscribes to this view by ensuring that the building is maintained to a very high standard. The board meets regularly and members show an active interest in the school. Some members visit the school regularly. The board has participated actively in the development of many elements of the school plan but it is recommended that this practice should be broadened to take account of formal ratification and review of all plans and policies. It is reported that the parents association provides much support for the work of the school through participation in activities and fundraising.
The teaching staff consists of an administrative principal, eight classroom teachers, a learning support teacher and a resource teacher. The principal has a particularly effective leadership style and offers great support and direction to staff, board of management and pupils. She has succeeded in creating a very positive school climate and has created a strong sense of community within the school.
The in-school management team meets regularly and consists of principal, deputy principal and three posts of responsibility. One post holder takes responsibility for English and another takes responsibility for SPHE. Duties are carried out conscientiously in these areas and have a positive impact on the school. The teaching staff takes part in all in-service provided by the DES and other national agencies and they have also participated in training programmes provided within the school. These have included courses on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), Stay Safe and Child Protection, as well as training on other specific aspects of the SPHE programme. It is laudable that these courses have also been made available to board of management members.
A wide range of resources have been provided to assist in the teaching of various aspects of both the English and SPHE programmes in the school. Among those used regularly for the teaching of SHPE lessons are the Walk Tall Programme, the Stay Safe Programme, the RSE programme and First Steps from the North Western Health Board. These are supplemented occasionally from the array of other resources that have been provided including videos, DVDs and commercially produced posters and charts. Periodic use is made of resources from the local community in certain areas of the SPHE programme. Amongst guest speakers used on a regular basis are members of the local Gardaí as well as various representatives from the Health Service Executive (HSE), vets and members of the local fire service.
In English, a wide range of resources is in use in classrooms. These include both commercially produced and teacher designed charts, language programmes, ‘big books’ and a wide range of novels. A number of commercially produced workbooks are used in the teaching of phonics, spellings and in the development of writing skills. Classroom libraries are well stocked and a wide variety of reading material is available for all reading levels within the class. The school, with financial support from the parents, has recently updated its Information Communication Technology (ICT) system and this has allowed the school install a thoroughly modern computer system in terms of both software and hardware. The school has organised effective strategies to utilise this facility for English teaching. The learning support and resource teaching settings are well resourced and the resources in both settings are used effectively for the benefit of the pupils who avail of these services.
A comprehensive plan for SPHE has been devised earlier this year by all teachers, with the support of the principal and the post holder responsible for curriculum development in this area. This plan is built around the school’s mission statement, vision and aims for SPHE. A very clear two-year plan has been outlined for each class in order to implement the three strands of the curriculum. The three contexts - school climate and atmosphere, discrete lessons and integration and linkage with other subject areas - for the teaching of SPHE have been given due attention. The organisational aspects of SPHE which include catering for pupils with differing needs, equality of access and participation, parental involvement, homework and staff development have all been addressed adequately. The practice of including key elements of the SPHE plan in the school information booklet given to parents on enrolment is to be commended and is firm evidence of the shared responsibility between family and home that underpins this plan. An extensive range of organisational policies has been drawn up to support the implementation of the SPHE curriculum. These include statements on healthy eating, substance use, enrolment, code of behaviour, anti-bullying as well as health and safety. A comprehensive RSE policy was drawn up by a committee involving parents, teachers and board of management members. It is advised that consideration be given to ensuring that all school planning documentation be ratified by the board of Management and that a date for review be identified in all school policies. 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 school has prepared a helpful whole school plan for English. Laudable features of the plan include listing the class novels that will be covered from 1st to 6th Class, setting out a core syllabus of poetry from Infants to 6th Class and outlining a core phonics programme for the school. The core curriculum in poetry, phonics and class novels ensures when they leave the school that all pupils will have studied/learned 60 poems, have read and studied 8 class novels and have studied a clearly laid out phonics programme. In addition, the plan encourages teachers to widen this core curriculum. For example, in some classes pupils are encouraged to read information/factual books, magazines and periodicals. General use is made of class libraries, the school central library and the visiting mobile library. It is part of the plan to encourage paired reading, shared reading and to invite parent volunteers into the school for reading aloud activities.
The school plan has definite policies as to penmanship and process writing. For the latter, teachers are asked to engage in drafting and redrafting activities once/twice per month (depending on the class). The school has also elaborated on use of ICT in English. A specific literacy software programme has been adopted by the school to develop literacy skills from 1st to 6th classes. The fact that the school’s new computer system is placed in a central location facilitates the organisation of computer activities. Each pupil has a dedicated IT folder on computer in which they save their work. Thus progression and continuity is ensured. In addition to the literacy programme, pupils from 2nd to 6th classes use word processing software for process writing.
Amongst many helpful statements in the school plan is found a list of assessment procedures and approaches to differentiation for pupils with special learning needs. A review date has been set for the review of the policy.
The majority of class teachers prepare long-term and short term plans for implementation of their work for SPHE and English. The strands and strand units that have been laid out in the two-year implementation plan for SPHE inform the planning in each classroom. The monthly progress records demonstrate that some aspects of the SPHE curriculum are covered in all classes with the main emphasis on the Myself and Myself and Others strands. The implementation of the new two-year plan should ensure more balanced implementation of the SPHE programme. According to the plan for SPHE, the review of the content in monthly progress records aids the review of the implementation of the SPHE programme. It is recommended that staff review the current system for the recording of monthly reports in order to facilitate ease in this process.
Individual teacher planning for English is based appropriately on the school plan. The teachers are to be complimented on their adherence to the plan, thus ensuring continuity and progression throughout the school. In the learning support and resource teaching contexts teachers are conscientious in their approach to planning and each teacher plans according to the needs of the pupils availing of the respective services. In the learning support context there is a greater emphasis on group support and therefore group educational plans are prepared. In addition, individual plans for pupils are also prepared. In both learning support and resource contexts notes on progress are kept for each pupil.
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. Rooms are clean and bright and a welcoming atmosphere pertains, helping in the creation of a positive climate and atmosphere in the school. Pupils are trained in the development of good habits in terms of greetings and manners. There is a good atmosphere in classrooms, and communications between teachers and pupils, and amongst pupils themselves are positive and assuring, with praise and respect central to all interactions. Behaviour and conduct is generally of a high standard and familiarity with the healthy lunch policy was observed across the school. A designated area for SPHE has been allocated in some classrooms. These areas generally contain class devised sets of rules and practices, charts and posters connected with SPHE, samples of pupils’ work and folders of other work completed. This practice could be further extended to all classrooms. All class teachers set aside discrete time for the teaching of SPHE lessons.
Lessons observed were in line with those described for this time of year in the school’s two year implementation plan. As a result, all of the lessons were from the Myself strand. In the majority of classrooms, well planned linkage and integration of SPHE with other curricular areas was a feature of lessons. This was especially evident with oral language, poetry and elements of Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE). Opportunities for further linkage should present themselves as teachers become more familiar with the SPHE programme and this will help to alleviate the concerns teachers voiced about the limits of one half hour of discrete teaching time each week. A wide variety of methodologies was observed. Good use was made of circle time which is being developed successfully across the school. A wide variety of active methodologies was also employed during lessons including role play, games, poetry and story. Talk and discussion plays a key part in most lessons, and pupils demonstrated enthusiasm while working in pairs. Use of group work was limited but this can be developed over time. Generally lessons were well structured and based on clear objectives.
A broad range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities is made available to the pupils to complement the SPHE programme. They participate in various physical activities, including many team games such as hurling, football and soccer. Many pupils represent their school in team quizzes and other competitions, and the school regularly engages in fundraising activities for charities. Participation and success is appropriately marked with pictures on the school notice board and regular articles in the local newspapers as well as on the school news letter. Care and appreciation of the environment is fostered through many activities including the creation of a school garden by one class as well as supporting local Tidy Towns events. The school is also involved in the Green School initiative and pupils are selected to be on the committee. A successful weekly savings stamps scheme is organised and run by the sixth class pupils and this inculcates good habits for life. Recently the school earned an award in the An Post National Young Savers Awards for their participation and dedication to this scheme. Strong community links are maintained through participation in the local church choir and with visits to the local day care centre and the nursing home to name but a few.
The quality of provision in English was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching and learning, a review of samples of pupils’ work and interaction with pupils in 5 of the mainstream classrooms as well as pupils in support and resource settings. Overall, both the board of management and the parents can be assured that the teaching of English in this school is undertaken with dedication and with careful planning. Teachers apply the policies laid out in the school plan with dedication. Teachers follow the directions in the plan as to the teaching of poetry, class novels, spelling, grammar and phonics. In due course, the full implementation of this plan should have a beneficial effect on overall standards in English.
In some of the classrooms, it was noticeable that some elements of the English curriculum were broken wisely into manageable entities. The teaching of these elements was clear and examples were chosen carefully to illustrate teaching points. It was also clear by the end of such lessons that pupils had acquired an understanding of the elements taught. While such an approach has very strong merits, in order to apply the knowledge learned it is necessary to bring the work together in a holistic fashion. It is recommended therefore that after the teaching of a particular item in phonics or grammar that opportunities should be devised to apply that knowledge in a holistic setting.
In the teaching of writing, teachers follow the school plan by ensuring process writing involving drafting and redrafting activities is included in classroom activities. Examples of this aspect of writing were displayed prominently in many classrooms. In some classes the pupils’ final drafts were handwritten in a commendably neat style and in other classes the final work was displayed using different word processing fonts. Overall the final work was attractive and well written. In some classes, there were class folders of final drafts which were presented imaginatively. By the end of a term or school year these folders will make very attractive class books of personal writing. This is a practice to be encouraged and developed. Additional writing tasks are derived from textbooks and workbooks. In view of the fact that some classes have achieved such high standards in terms of content and presentation using the process writing method, it is recommended that the use of textbooks and workbooks as sources of inspiration for writing should be reviewed.
The oral language topics for English are integrated successfully with SPHE in some classes. It is recommended that pair work and group work are used more extensively for brainstorming of ideas during oral language lessons. Dictionaries are used extensively in some classes during oral language, reading and writing lessons and this practice has proved to be very beneficial. In some classes as well, pupils are engaged in a wide variety of writing tasks where they make use of process writing to engage in free writing activities. This practice as outlined in the school plan for English is to be encouraged.
The school’s reading policy is laudable. During the evaluation it was evident that pupils engaged in wide reading of both works of fiction and non-fiction. Classroom libraries were well stocked and in many classes the pupils talked enthusiastically about the books they were reading. The paired reading scheme whereby parent volunteers come to the school to help with reading is a very positive development and the teachers involved in organising this initiative are to be complimented. In many classes, teachers listen to pupils’ reading on a regular basis. While this methodology provides assurance to the teacher that pupils are practising their reading, it must be used judiciously in order to avoid undue repetition and a consequent loss of interest. It is recommended that variety in the practice is introduced through performance reading, reading aloud in pairs and group reading tasks. Pupils who have difficulty with reading are supported in either a learning support setting or a resource setting depending on the level of difficulty displayed. The teachers are very conscientious in seeking to overcome the gaps in these pupils’ skill acquisition and at the same time ensuring that the pupils’ self-confidence is maintained. The resources in both the learning support/resource contexts are used wisely to ensure that pupils practise the target skills with laudable variety. Most of the support is undertaken on a withdrawal basis and some consideration could now be given to providing support within classroom settings.
ICT is used very successfully in many classes. During the evaluation a class was observed working through the literacy software programme. The pupils worked independently and with ease on the computers. This approach allows for individualised instruction and therefore each pupil made progress in accordance with his/her ability.
The SPHE plan outlines teacher observation, teacher-designed tests and tasks, portfolios and projects, self-assessment by children, talk and discussion, skills through content and use of the environment as the methods of assessment. In some classrooms pupils keep any work completed in SPHE in individual folders. This includes worksheets, written work and pictures.
All teachers cite teacher observation as the main assessment approach employed throughout the whole school day as well as during the discrete SPHE lessons. Pupils’ progress is regularly discussed on an informal basis by teachers. Some teachers have formalised this informal approach by selecting certain areas that are to be observed, and these are tracked through the use of simple checklists on a monthly basis. This practice should be considered by all teachers. Key skills, attitudes or knowledge could be assessed on a whole school basis. The assessment section of the curriculum should be the starting point for any review of the current assessment policy.
All teachers engage in both formal and informal assessment procedures for English. Observation and the teachers’ own knowledge of the pupils in their classes form the basis of informal procedures. Formal assessment is undertaken regularly in most classes through the testing of spellings. The standardised MicraT tests are administered every year throughout the school. The results of these tests are maintained in a central file. It is recommended that the school analyse the results of these tests on a yearly basis in order to ensure that gaps in pupils’ English abilities are identified on a whole class basis. The information provided by the analysis should be discussed appropriately and factored into teachers’ long-term and short-term planning.
Both SPHE and English are discussed at the annual parent-teacher meetings and are also included in the end-of-year written report to parents.
The principal along with the teachers and ancillary staff of Bunscoil Glean Sidheáin are succeeding in creating a positive atmosphere where the uniqueness of all individuals is valued. This is a welcoming and happy school where the strong sense of community, along with the practices of openness and collaboration amongst both staff and pupils leads to positive effects on the teaching and learning. A broad and balanced curriculum is implemented for both SPHE and English.
A number of themes for future development of the school have been identified and these include:
A review of the current whole school practices of assessment in the area of SPHE with a view to formalising the present structures of teacher observation.
The teaching of discrete elements of the English curriculum should be complemented by holistic approaches.
The school should review its use of workbooks for the teaching of English writing and place more stress on pupil-generated writing tasks.
It is recommended that the school analyse the results of standardised tests in literacy on a yearly basis in order to ensure that gaps in pupils’ English abilities are identified on a whole class basis.
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.