An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
Coolock, Dublin 5
Roll number: 60550B
Date of inspection: 6 December 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Chanel College, Coolock. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) in junior cycle 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 the subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Chanel College is an all-boys school with a current student population of 390. Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is firmly established in the school where it has been on the curriculum, originally as pastoral care, for over fifteen years. There is a very supportive school climate for SPHE and whole school activities, such as the Anti-bullying in Chanel programme, the sixth year leader scheme and the practical supports to promote healthy eating, support the work of SPHE lessons; this is commended. The subject benefits from excellent whole school support in terms of timetabling and teacher allocation. In keeping with the requirements of CL M11/03, SPHE is timetabled for all junior cycle students for one class period per week. Commendably, the position of the subject on the weekly timetable is given priority for all class groups.
Currently, the subject department comprises a well-established and dedicated core team of three teachers, each of whom is timetabled for one group of students from each of the three year groups. It is very good practice that teachers are assigned to teach the subject by consultation and it is noted that there is openness to having new members join the team; this is important in building capacity for the future. There is a collaborative spirit in the subject department and the work is co-ordinated in a very committed manner by one of the team members. In order to facilitate the development of skills amongst all team members and to further build capacity, it is recommended that co-ordination of the subject be carried out on a rotating basis.
Management is very supportive of continuing professional development (CPD) and the subject department is committed to attendance at in-service and other CPD courses. It is good to note that a close working relationship has been established with the SPHE Support Service and with the Local Drugs Task Force (LDTF) as well as the student support services within the school. In conjunction with the home-school-community liaison co-ordinator, commendable efforts are also made to involve parents in the SPHE programme through a range of information evenings and courses. The school reports on the success of a recently organised course delivered by the LDTF, entitled The Challenge of the Teenage Years. Commendably, parents have also been involved in the development of policies such as the relationships and sexuality education (RSE) policy. It is noted that this policy is due for review and it is recommended that the review should involve all partners in the expansion and updating of the policy. In relation to the school’s substance misuse policy, it is recommended that the title should be changed to substance use policy and that the policy should apply to the entire school community.
As part of school development planning, management facilitates subject department planning through the provision of formal time for meetings. However, as teachers are involved in a range of other subjects, as well as SPHE, they report that it is sometimes difficult to find a time that suits all members of the team and as a result, meetings are often held in teachers’ own time. There is a very organised approach to subject planning for SPHE and very commendable progress has been made in this process. A subject policy document has been developed that includes details of the organisation, planning and delivery of the subject. It is commendable that the document includes, for example, the school’s policy on visiting speakers to the SPHE class, the anti-bullying and RSE policies as well as cross-curricular links with other subjects and details of initiatives within and outside of the school that support the SPHE programme for students.
It is very good to note that common schemes of work, which are based on the junior cycle syllabus, have been developed for each year group. It is commendable that the content is also tailored to ensure that it meets the needs of the current cohort of students. In each year of junior cycle, the content, in the form of topics, is divided into three modules, each of ten weeks duration. Therefore, over the three years each student will have completed nine modules. It is noted that the three modules are given the same title in each year, but the developmental approach recommended in the syllabus is evident in the organisation of material and in the depth of content, resulting in a very coherent programme of work for junior cycle SPHE; this is commended. In addition, resource folders have been prepared for each module that include a summary of each lesson in the module as well as a range of carefully chosen resources, handouts and student worksheets to support teaching and learning. In some cases, the objectives and the expected learning outcomes are outlined for each lesson. There were some good examples of reflective evaluation by teachers following the delivery of the lesson. This good practice is commended and it has the potential to inform future planning.
An interesting dimension to the delivery of the SPHE programme in this school is that each of the three teachers delivers a different module to each year group. In practice, this means that teachers rotate every ten weeks. In terms of organisation, the school reports that the system works well as classes in each year group are timetabled concurrently, there are three class groups in each year, three modules to be delivered to each year group and three teachers involved in delivery. Teachers are commended for the commitment and teamwork involved in the organisation of this system, thus ensuring that students have a broad, but coherent, experience of the subject. Resources for SPHE are catalogued and available at a central location in the school so that all members of the team can access them. During the evaluation, the SPHE team, and management, expressed concern that one of the time-consuming and sometimes costly challenges of teaching the subject is finding resource materials that are suitable, yet up to date. Those involved suggested that some financial help should be available to schools for the purchase of resources for the subject.
The positive attitude to SPHE in the school was noticeable in the classrooms visited. Short-term planning and preparation for the lessons observed was very good, resulting, in the main, in lessons that were well structured. All lessons had a clear focus, and teachers were very careful to remind students of the content of the previous lesson; this is essential in SPHE due to the fact that students only have one class period per week for the subject. There was a good example of this in a lesson, where students were asked to focus on the new information that they had learned the previous week. In some cases the learning outcomes were shared with the students at the outset while in other cases, the learning outcomes emerged during the lesson and were summarised as the lesson concluded. The good practice of sharing the learning outcomes of each lesson with the students provides a structure and a focus for their learning.
The topics and content of the lessons observed were very relevant and generally well pitched to the level of the students. There were some very good examples of the pacing of lessons where students were allowed time and space to reflect on the concepts of the lessons. Consideration should always be given to the amount of material to be covered in any lesson relative to the level of the students. In the main, students engaged well with lesson content and this was most successful when the well-chosen and well-used active learning methodologies were accompanied by a facilitative teaching style. In particular the use of the lyrics of the song Circle of Life from The Lion King, as well as a poem on the theme of a season for everything, were effectively used as trigger material for students in a lesson based on change, growth and development. In another lesson, an appropriate newspaper article, used as part of the lesson, provided students with clear and graphic evidence of the devastating effects of drugs on young people. The use of a crossword in a lesson on RSE helped students check their knowledge and focus on the essential points of the lesson. There were also good examples of clear teacher instruction where necessary.
Some opportunities were provided for students to develop skills and confidence in group work and discussion. It is always important that whole class discussion is well managed so that students who are more confident in speaking out in class do not dominate the discussion. It is recommended that the secure environment of SPHE class be used as a forum to provide opportunities for students, who may be shy or apprehensive about speaking aloud in groups, to develop confidence in this area without fear of giving a wrong answer. The use of pair work or small groups is a good starting point to support students in this process. Opportunities to share good practice in the effective use of participatory and experiential learning methodologies recommended for SPHE should be considered as part of subject planning.
The good practice of taking the roll call was noted in all classes visited. Classroom management was generally excellent and there were some very good examples of drawing attention to the ground rules that had been agreed for the SPHE class, and in particular, in emphasising the importance of listening and maintaining respect for others during the classroom interactions; this is commended. Teaching and learning took place in a secure and supportive atmosphere, characterised by a good rapport between students and their teachers. In cases where a very small number of students demonstrated challenging behaviour, every effort was made to keep the students focused on the activities of the lessons, while maintaining a firm and affirming approach. The sharing of experiences and practice in this area might be useful, particularly given that there is rotation of team members at the end of each module.
All students have a copybook and a folder to store materials from SPHE lessons. This very good practice ensures that students and their parents have a concrete record of work and achievement for the year, and it guarantees that students have the facility to store work that might be of a personal nature, so that is not left lying carelessly around the classroom. It was evident during the evaluation that planning for the assessment of students’ progress in SPHE is incorporated into the planning of lessons. It is noted that students are sometimes given homework in SPHE. Tests are given from time to time, particularly at the end of a module, and students are awarded marks for their efforts. It is commendable that the school reports to parents on students’ progress in the subject; this generally takes the form of a mark and a comment on the school reports. Teachers also value the opportunities available at parent-teacher meetings to discuss students’ progress in the subject. It is notable that students are awarded a school certificate of achievement in SPHE.
Oral questioning, using both open and closed questions, was frequently used throughout lessons to check understanding and to allow students express opinions. In addition, students recorded key points from lessons in their copybooks and a variety of worksheets provided them with opportunities to check understanding. There was a good example of asking students at the conclusion of a lesson to focus on what they had learned during the lesson.
The attention to assessment in SPHE in the school is commended. In order to extend the range of assessment modes it is recommended that assessment for learning practices be further developed to complement the assessment of learning. This would ensure that the focus is on behaviour and attitudes as well as knowledge. Material in students’ folders could provide some material and act as a basis, for example, for student self-assessment, where students are provided with opportunities to reflect on their learning at the end of a lesson, or on completion of a topic. In this way, assessment is used as a tool for learning, as opposed to measuring how much or how well a topic has been learned. The earlier reference to sharing the learning outcomes of the lesson with the students would facilitate this process. Student reflection and self-assessment could also inform planning and review of teaching and learning. Further information and advice on assessment in SPHE is available in the Guidelines for Teachers (pages 59-68) and from the SPHE Support Service. In addition, the NCCA website (www.ncca.ie) contains information on assessment for learning, which teachers might find useful.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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.