An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of

Social, Personal and Health Education



Holy Faith Secondary School

Clontarf, Dublin 3

Roll number: 60750J


Date of inspection: 12 December 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 Holy Faith Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health Education (including Relationships and Sexuality Education in senior cycle) and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over three 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.



Subject provision and whole school support


Holy Faith Secondary School , a voluntary secondary Catholic school, currently caters for 594 female students. SPHE is well provided for as a curriculum subject and it benefits from strong whole-school support. Each class in junior cycle is timetabled for SPHE in line with the requirements of Circular Letter M11/03, following a recommendation made in a whole school evaluation (WSE) report in 2006. In addition to the classroom activities planned and delivered by the SPHE teachers, the junior cycle programme includes presentations by external personnel. All SPHE classes within each year group are concurrently timetabled to facilitate this provision. Teachers are expected to remain with their class group during all such presentations so that appropriate follow-through takes place on any important issues which arise in the externally delivered sessions. This expectation is expressed in the school’s SPHE policy and it is in keeping with recommended practice.


The Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme in senior cycle is delivered by an external agency which operates within the Catholic ethos of the school. Some consultation on the programme offered has occurred with sixth-year students but the school should review the RSE programme to ensure that it reflects the current needs of all students. The school might find it useful to refer to the recently developed TRUST (Talking Relationships Understanding Sexuality Teaching) resource for teaching senior cycle. It consists of a DVD and twenty accompanying lessons and is available through the training programme for senior cycle RSE.


In the current school year, a team of thirteen teachers delivers the SPHE programme, most of whom teach SPHE to two class groups. The school reported that it is not always possible for teachers to remain with the same class groups for SPHE due to timetabling arrangements in the school. However, every effort is made to ensure that all SPHE teachers deliver another subject to the same class group and this is good.


Management is very supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development and attendance at in-service provided by the SPHE Support Service has been facilitated. All of the current team have accessed the Introductory Training course and training for the Cool School Programme. Almost fifty percent of this team have also attended the Continuation Training course. A smaller number have attended RSE training and anti-bullying workshops. This attention and commitment to continuing professional development (CPD) is commended.


School management facilitates a number of initiatives that promotes SPHE in a wider whole-school context. The school has engaged with the Green School programme, the Cool School Programme and it actively promotes a healthy eating campaign. These initiatives all help to support the SPHE programme, and thus, they deserve to be encouraged and supported. It was noted during the evaluation that most of the classrooms in the school are small. This does not easily facilitate the inclusion of active participative approaches such as group work into lessons. However, every effort was made by the SPHE team in the lessons observed to overcome this shortcoming.


Resources to support the teaching of SPHE have been acquired in the school. These are accessible to all teachers. It is recommended that all available resources be catalogued and that this information should be included in the SPHE planning folder. Information and communications technology (ICT) is well resourced in the school. Eighteen interactive whiteboards have been acquired and almost every teacher has been provided with a laptop computer. ICT has been used for the development of resources and, in some cases, as an additional teaching tool. It was noted in one lesson that, while efforts were being made to teach students about cyber bullying and safe use of the internet, equal emphasis was being placed on improving the ICT skills of students. Care must be taken to ensure that ICT does not become the focus of any SPHE lesson. This is important to ensure that one of the core aims of the SPHE syllabus which is ‘to provide opportunities for reflection and discussion’ is being met. It is recommended that a firm focus be maintained on this particular aim.



Planning and preparation


Members of the SPHE department meet formally twice per year. Thereafter, all collaboration is undertaken informally between individual members of the team. Currently, there is no co-ordinator for SPHE. It is recommended that, initially, one member of the team should undertake co-ordination of the subject. This role could then be rotated amongst other members of the department. This would be an invaluable support for all teachers in the SPHE department and ensure a collaborative approach to the planning and delivery of the subject in the school.


The SPHE department have not yet developed an agreed three-year plan for the delivery of the ten modules which comprise this subject. Some schemes of work were presented by teachers which indicated that they have developed expertise in particular aspects of the SPHE programme and that they deliver these topics to all class groups by rotating classes with other colleagues. Detailed planning has occurred for these topics and a significant amount of class time is dedicated to them. However, less attention has been paid to other required topics and some modules are omitted completely. This is not in keeping with the SPHE syllabus. It is essential that an agreed three-year plan should be developed. This should include topics from all ten modules for each year of the junior cycle. This would ensure that there is a spiral and developmental approach to the delivery of SPHE. This is highly recommended. Furthermore, consideration should be given by all the SPHE teachers to delivering all aspects of the SPHE curriculum. This would broaden the expertise of the team. This is also recommended.


To improve on planning, it is recommended that individual schemes of work should be further developed by all teachers; schemes should include aims, objectives, methodologies, key learning outcomes required from each module and an indication of the modes of assessment to be used. The very detailed records of work covered, which are maintained by some SPHE teachers, should be useful for planning these schemes of work. The sharing of this good practice is also recommended.


Individual planning for each lesson visited during the evaluation was good. This was evident through, for example, the provision of handouts and worksheets which were integrated into lessons at appropriate stages. A class contract, which had been negotiated between the teacher and the students, was on display in all classrooms visited. This is good practice and is commended.



Teaching and learning


Five lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation. All lessons began with a roll call. Lessons were purposeful and there was very good continuity with prior learning. In all cases, the aims were shared with students and in some cases, the learning intention was stated. This is optimal practice and should be included in all lessons as it provides a focus and structure for students.


Lesson content and pace were generally appropriate to each class group. Many of the teaching and learning strategies observed are in keeping with those recommended for the delivery of SPHE. The range of methodologies used provided students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning. These included strategies such as brainstorming, pair work and group work, questioning, individual work, discussion and reflection.


Good practice was observed when the teacher acted as facilitator and where students were active and assumed responsibility for their own learning. For example, in one lesson observed, the theme of the lesson was healthy eating. Students were invited to produce a healthy recipe book for the school. Group work was used effectively in this lesson as students worked on carefully selected tasks including the creation of a questionnaire to survey the school and on designing a recipe book. Towards the end of the lesson, an appropriate amount of time was allocated to students to provide feedback to the teacher regarding their findings. This lesson was very engaging and utilised fully the initiative and creativity of the students.


Discussion was integrated effectively into a second lesson observed. The theme of the lesson was decision-making. Students discussed all decisions they had made during the week and the consequences of their choices. These were recorded on the board by the teacher and, on some occasions, by a student.


From teachers’ planning documentation, it is very apparent that active strategies such as games and role-play are used in some cases. Consideration should now be given to sharing these practices and to their increased inclusion in lessons to enable students to engage more actively with topics.


Questioning strategies which included both global questions and those targeted to individual students were effective and enhanced the level of learning in lessons. In some classes, students evaluated their own learning towards the end of the lesson. This is very good practice and the increased use of this strategy is recommended. In all lessons observed, a caring atmosphere was created. Teachers managed all students very sensitively, welcomed all contributions and an atmosphere of mutual respect was prevalent.





It is very clear that a system has been developed for students to file and store personal materials from SPHE lessons. This typically takes the form of a folder. There is an expectation that students will take responsibility for the maintenance of all materials. Currently, SPHE does not appear on the formal school report that issues to parents. This should be addressed at the earliest opportunity in order to enhance the profile of SPHE among parents and to encourage students’ engagement in the subject. However, in advance of any such measure, attention needs to be given by the SPHE team to agreeing the criteria to be applied by all teachers to assess students’ progress and achievement. In the assessment process, consideration should be given to including the learner’s project and portfolio work and her level of engagement in lessons. Further information and advice on assessment in SPHE is available in the Guidelines for Teachers (pages 59-68) and from the SPHE support service.


Student progress is assessed through oral questioning, written work and project work. Parents can also meet with teachers to discuss progress at parent-teacher evenings.



Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         SPHE as a curriculum subject benefits from good subject provision and from strong whole-school support.

·         School management is very supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development.

·         The school provides an environment that promotes SPHE in a wider whole-school context.

·         SPHE benefits from very good ICT provision in the school.

·         The individual teacher planning for each lesson observed was good.

·         Many of the teaching and learning strategies observed are as recommended in SPHE guidelines.

·         In the lessons observed, good questioning strategies enhanced the level of learning.



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

·         Co-ordination of the SPHE department should now be undertaken by individual members on a rotation basis.

·         The school should review its RSE programme for senior cycle students.

·         It is essential that a three-year SPHE plan be developed for junior cycle students so that there is a spiral and developmental approach to the delivery of the subject.

·         Care should be taken to ensure that the development of students’ ICT skills does not become the focus of any SPHE lesson.

·         SPHE should be included as a subject area within the formal school report system so as to keep parents informed of students’ progress.


A post-evaluation meeting was 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.





Published June 2009