An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Social Personal and Health Education




St. Raphaela’s Secondary School

Stillorgan, County Dublin


Roll number: 60361V


Date of inspection: 7 December 2007

Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008




Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations





Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)



Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Raphaela’s Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.  The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.


Subject provision and whole school support


St Raphaela’s Secondary School is an all-girls school with a current enrolment of 402 students. SPHE is well established on the school’s curriculum.  Each junior cycle class group is timetabled for one period per week, in accordance with circular M11/03. In addition, students who follow the optional Transition Year (TY) programme also receive one period of SPHE per week. This provision is commendable as it ensures that these students are provided with additional opportunities to reflect on issues that are relevant to their lives as they grow and mature. Consideration should be given to timetabling some year groups concurrently for SPHE, as this would facilitate cooperative teaching and a modular specific approach. Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is timetabled as part of SPHE in junior cycle and it is also timetabled for the recommended time in senior cycle.


SPHE benefits from a supportive whole-school environment and the school considers that the subject makes a positive contribution to the pastoral care system in the school. Whole-school activities including drugs awareness week, health promotion week, students’ participation in mental health debates, and social awareness projects such as the St Vincent de Paul Christmas hampers. In addition, materials relevant to SPHE, such as anti-bullying and substance abuse posters are visually promoted on the school notice boards. These activities and practices help to consolidate learning and support the work of SPHE lessons, which is commendable


The subject department is comprised of a core team of teachers. It is good practice that teachers are assigned to teach the subject by consultation and that there is openness to having new members join the team, thus building capacity. At present there is a team of five teachers teaching SPHE in the school. Management was reported to be fully supportive of teachers’ attendance at relevant in-service and strives to accommodate professional development whenever possible. Most teachers have attended recent in-service. It is highly commendable that systems are in place for the induction of new teachers into the subject in the school and these include the familiarisation with the philosophy of SPHE, the content of the programme for each year group and the appropriate teaching and learning methods. All programme materials and resources are indexed and easily accessible to all members of the SPHE department.


Teachers are assigned to classes on an annual basis and may not be assigned to teach the same group the following year. SPHE aims to develop close and trusting relationships between students and their teacher. These relationships take time to form and develop especially as teachers may only meet their group once per week. Where possible, it is recommended that teachers be assigned to a class group for the duration of the junior cycle.  


Classrooms are teacher-based and it was found that this system worked well in most cases. However, it was also found to be restrictive in one case due to the tiered seating arrangements in the classroom. The allocation of classrooms should be considered to ensure that they are appropriate to accommodate the experiential nature and interactive learning and teaching methods of the subject that allow for maximum teacher and student mobility.


Management facilitates planning for SPHE through the provision of meeting time, both as part of school development planning and throughout the year during planned staff and subject department meetings. It is commendable that SPHE teachers may make an input into staff meetings if required. The process and procedures for developing, ratifying, implementing and reviewing school policies is in keeping with good practice. SPHE, RSE, Substance Use and Anti-Bullying policies have been developed by a core committee in consultation with all the relevant partners and are integrated into the school plan, which exemplifies this good practice. There is good communication with parents and their involvement in areas related to SPHE, including RSE, is facilitated and encouraged through information and representation on policy development committees. It is commendable that the school is proactive in developing procedures to ensure the greater inclusion of parents from the wide diversity of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds to adequately reflect the student population.


The Child Protection Guidelines have been appropriately adopted and a designated liaison person and deputy liaison person have been appointed. All staff members have received input in relation to the guidelines.


Relevant resources are available at a central location in the school so that all members of the team can access them, which is good practice. There is a clear and supportive system available for the purchase of additional resources. The relevant resource grants have been received and used for their intended purpose. Data-projectors, televisions, DVD players and school computers are all accessible and available to teachers if required to support the teaching and learning process in SPHE.


Planning and preparation


There is an organised approach to subject planning for SPHE and commendable progress has been made in this process. A member of the SPHE department acts as subject coordinator, which is part of a special duties teacher’s post. Formal subject department meetings are held once per term and detailed records are retained of the items discussed. In addition, short informal meetings are held at regular intervals to discuss items of interest such as resource requirements, lesson plans or to organise the visit of guest speakers. This level of interaction is commendable and it was clearly evident during the inspection that there is a good culture of collaboration and sharing amongst the teachers of SPHE.


The SPHE subject plan is a coherent and well constructed document. A SPHE policy is included in the planning document and details the rationale for the inclusion of the subject on the curriculum, its organisation, the strategies best suited to effective learning and teaching, the cross-curricular links possible to further consolidate learning, teachers’ professional development and the role of parents. Other school policies, relevant to SPHE such as anti-bullying and substance use, are included in the SPHE subject planning document. The school reviews its policies at regular intervals, which is good practice and the SPHE and RSE policies are due for review later this year. To assist the planned review of the RSE policy, it is recommended that the SPHE department consult the RSE policy guidelines, template and sample policy, which can be accessed on the Department of Education and Science’s website


The SPHE department has adopted the planning framework template outlined in the SPHE Guidelines for Teachers. The programme of work is planned to cover all ten modules, including RSE, with each year group. This good practice ensures that topics can be revisited and developed to spiral learning over the three-year cycle. Common schemes of work, which are based on the syllabus, have been developed for each year group. Each scheme of work has an accompanying series of lesson plans with suggested resources identified to support the effectiveness of each lesson. Teachers are afforded flexibility to tailor and adapt each topic to meet the specific needs of the students in their class group, which is good practice. The SPHE department has compiled a good list of resources such as posters, videos, DVDs, “how you began” models, workbooks and worksheets, which are centrally stored and easily accessible. The need for up-to-date, relevant and stimulating resources to meet the ever-changing needs of the students have been identified by the SPHE department as one of the major challenges facing the meaningful and effective delivery of the subject in the school. Such reflection is commendable.


Whilst some cross-curricular links have been made with other subject departments such as Home Economics, Science and Physical Education, the further expansion of these links is recommended to establish a coordinated approach to the timing of the delivery of modules with common themes. This practice will serve to further reinforce and consolidate student learning.  


It is commendable that some review and evaluation is built into the SPHE programme planning process to help determine the suitability of topics and their effectiveness in meeting the needs of the students. This review includes input from some of the students, the parents and the SPHE teachers. To build on this good practice, it is suggested that the module and end-of-year review forms be further developed to assist all students to evaluate the programme. The content of these review forms may address items such as relevance of topics to the students’ needs, level of participation in class discussions or activities, the appropriateness of stimulus and resource material and approaches to learning.


Teaching and learning


The quality of teaching and learning in SPHE, as observed during this inspection, was of a good standard. The material taught was in accordance with the syllabus and delivered through a variety of stimulating and engaging methodologies conducive to student learning. Effective short-term planning was a feature of all lessons observed, with detailed lesson plans provided that outlined the content, organisation, methodologies and relevant resources to support teaching and learning. This careful attention to planning resulted in lessons that had a clear purpose and were well structured. Self management: guidelines for revision, exam success and relaxation; friendship: qualities of a good friend, and substance use: factors influencing alcohol consumption were the topics of study in the lessons observed. All lessons began with a pleasant greeting and roll-call and students settled down quietly and quickly. Teachers set the context for the lesson at the beginning by reviewing the previous week’s work or introducing the topic by relating it to aspects of students’ lives. In this way the subject matter was made immediately relevant to students. The learning intentions and the planned activities of the lessons were shared with the students and this good practice provided a clear focus and structure for their learning.


A range of effective teaching and learning strategies were used in the classes visited, including individual reflection, question and answer sessions, brainstorming, pair and small group work. In addition, stimulus material such as video excerpts, music and worksheets were used to good effect to initiate debate or consolidate learning. These ranges of methodologies were effective in providing students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning, in keeping with the recommendations for the delivery of SPHE. In most cases, feedback from groupwork was very well processed by the teachers, especially in one case where a rubric to record had been constructed to record students’ responses on the qualities of a good friend. This good practice ensured that students reflected on their responses and reached a consensus definition that they happily recorded in their note-copies. Additionally, student responses were recorded on the whiteboard through the use of spider-diagrams, which is good practice as it ensures that students’ responses are valued. When using spider-diagrams, it may be beneficial to establish sub-categories into which responses may be placed. For example, when looking at the effects of substance misuse, the sub-categories of social, personal and health effects may be identified. In this way, student responses may be processed and categorised and applied to the relevant aspects of SPHE.


Students were fully engaged in their learning when they were given clear instructions and opportunities to work in pairs or small groups. There was a good commitment to oral questioning throughout all lessons. These questions were tailored by teachers to suit the aptitude and age of the students being taught. Questions posed were predominantly open-ended. There was an appropriate balance struck between global and directed questions and sufficient time was provided for students to reflect on and answer questions. When directing higher-order questions, teachers displayed good awareness and sensitivity towards students and used subtle prompting to encourage student success. Questioning was logical and meaningful and helped lead the students towards further understanding of the subject matter. A video excerpt highlighting the factors influencing alcohol consumption and the resultant impairment of decision-making provided good stimulus material for debate and discussion. When using video as a stimulus, it is important that students are given clear criteria or cues on which to focus their observations. It is recommended that the SPHE department prepare resource sheets to correspond to the video excerpts to ensure the effective use of these valuable teaching and learning aids. This will increase students’ awareness and focus on the issues relevant to the topic of study.


In all lessons observed, teachers were supportive of students’ learning and good relationships had been established between students and their teachers. Positive affirmation was a pleasant feature of most interactions and students’ contributions to class discussions or answers to questions were warmly welcomed. Students demonstrated good awareness of the established rules of classroom interactions and were respectful of each other and their teachers at all times. Classroom management was good and this was helped by the relatively small class sizes.


In most cases, lessons concluded by reviewing the main points of the lesson and outlining the topics to be covered in the next lesson. This is good practice as it ensures that students view each lesson as part of a progressive series of learning units rather than isolated topics. Students were enthusiastic and informed in their responses to questions by the inspector and clearly respect and enjoy their SPHE lessons.




It is commendable that students maintain a copybook to record work completed in their SPHE lessons. This good practice ensures that students have a tangible record of their work and achievements during the year. It may also help to inform part of the assessment process and provide meaningful feedback to parents regarding students’ engagement with the subject. It is important that students are provided with regular opportunities to reflect on the issues and topics raised during their SPHE lessons and that this reflection is recorded. It is also commendable that students are set home-tasks on occasion. It is recommended that teachers monitor students’ copybooks on a regular basis and provide some feedback regarding the quality of the work presented.


Teachers frequently use oral questioning, using both open and closed questions, to check understanding and to allow students express their opinions. In most cases, questioning is also used to determine students understanding of topics at the conclusion of lessons. This is good practice and its continued use is recommended as it helps to clarify and consolidate students learning.


There is scope for the further development of the assessment process for SPHE. It is recommended that assessment for learning practices be introduced to provide a basis to guide students’ learning. This process will help to complement other modes of assessment already in use by the SPHE department and ensure that the focus of learning is on behaviour and attitudes as well as knowledge. Further information and advice on assessment in SPHE are available in the Guidelines for Teachers (pages 59-68). In addition, the NCCA website contains useful information on assessment for learning, which teachers may find beneficial.


It is commendable that SPHE teachers attend all parent-teacher meetings as this is a useful forum to establish a connection with parents. However, it is regrettable that SPHE is not contained on the reporting system to parents. It is recommended that this situation be addressed as it is important that the subject is viewed as an integral component of every student’s education.



Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         SPHE benefits from a supportive whole-school environment in St. Raphaela’s, where the subject is firmly established on the junior cycle curriculum and Transition Year programme.

·         There is very good support for the induction of new teachers to SPHE and for the continuing professional development of all members of the subject department.

·         The process and procedures for developing, ratifying, implementing and reviewing school policies relevant to SPHE are in keeping with good practice.

·         There is a very organised approach to subject planning and considerable progress has been made in this process. The programme of work for junior cycle is consistent with the syllabus and follows the recommended practice set out in the Guidelines for Teachers.

·         The SPHE department has scheduled meeting time to work together to review and plan the SPHE programme.

·         A clear system is in place for the purchase of resources and materials to support teaching and learning in SPHE. The SPHE department has compiled a comprehensive list of available resources, which are centrally stored and easily accessible for all teachers of the subject.

·         Review and reflection form part of the SPHE planning process.

·         There is a good standard of teaching and learning in SPHE in St. Raphaela’s.  

·         All lessons had a clear focus and the intended learning objectives were shared with the students at the outset.

·         An appropriate range of teaching strategies was used to develop and consolidate learning and was effective in providing students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning.

·         Teaching and learning took place in a positive and supportive environment, which was characterised by mutual respect.


As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

·         It is recommended, where possible, that teachers be assigned to a class group for the duration of the junior cycle. 

·         It is recommended that the established cross-curricular links with Home Economics, Science and Physical Education be further developed to ensure a coordinated approach to the timing of the delivery of modules with common themes.

·         It is recommended that the SPHE department prepare worksheets to correspond with video excerpts to ensure the effective use of these resources.

·         A review of current practices and the further development of the assessment process for SPHE are recommended.

·         It is recommended that SPHE be included in the reports home to parents.


Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of SPHE and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.