An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
Raphoe, Co Donegal
Roll number: 71230R
Date of inspection: 12 May 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
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 Deele College, Raphoe. 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 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, deputy principal, Home School Community Liaison (HSCL) coordinator 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.
SPHE, albeit by another name, has been firmly rooted in the curriculum in this school for well over twenty years. Prior to 2003, when SPHE became a required part of the core curriculum for all junior cycle students at national level, the North Western Health Board Lifeskills Programme, which was one of the precursors of SPHE, was an important component of the curriculum in Deele College. As a result, the transition from Lifeskills to SPHE was smooth and effortless.
There is very good provision and whole school support for SPHE resulting in a supportive school environment for the delivery of the subject. All first and second-year classes are timetabled for one period per week as required by CL M11/03 and it is commendable that SPHE is also on the curriculum at senior cycle; the subject is not currently timetabled for third-year students. Discussions during the evaluation indicated that, while there is willingness and a desire to provide SPHE for third years, there are constraints with regard to timetabling and the allocation of staff. Bearing in mind the particular social, personal and health education needs of third year students, in terms of their age and stage of development, and while recognising the current difficulties in terms of personnel, it is recommended that management make provision for the timetabling of SPHE for third years, so that the subject is available to all junior cycle students as required by CL M11/03.
One of the success factors in the planning and delivery of SPHE in the school is the well-organised and firmly established subject department, which is coordinated in a committed, enthusiastic and efficient manner. It is very good practice that teachers are assigned to teach the subject by consultation and currently there is a team of teachers for both junior cycle and senior cycle. It is testimony to the commitment that there is to the programme, that a number of the team members have been involved since Lifeskills was first introduced to the school, whilst new members are also invited and supported to join the team, thus building capacity. It is good practice that teachers currently remain with a particular class group from first year through to second year. Opportunities are used to inform parents of prospective first years about the role of SPHE as part of the pastoral care system. The school is currently formalising the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) policy and it is commendable that consultation with parents is a part of this process.
Management is supportive of collaborative planning and formal subject department meetings are facilitated three to four times a year; there is also a lot of informal contact amongst the team. Reports from a selection of the formal team meetings were made available during the evaluation. The team is facilitated and supported to take part in continuing professional development (CPD) and it is noted that all of the teachers involved in SPHE have attended in-service. The school reports that the aim is to develop the skills of all members of the SPHE team up to senior cycle; this is an admirable approach, which also has potential benefits, in terms of transferable skills, for teachers’ other subject areas. It is noted that all of the training received by each team member, including the type and date, is documented in the subject plan, which is referred to in the next section of this report. This is excellent practice in terms of keeping records, as well as providing evidence of the developmental approach to the expansion of teachers’ skills. In addition, a number of the more experienced members of the team have completed extensive training over the years, on an ongoing basis, in a range of areas related to SPHE; much of this training takes place in evenings or in some cases at weekends.
The planning process for the school’s SPHE programme provides many examples of best practice and is characterised by a strong commitment and a very organised collaborative approach. The SPHE team, as part of the school development planning process, has developed a subject department plan which provides an outline of the school’s context in terms of SPHE provision and coherently documents the school’s SPHE programme for junior cycle. The programme, which includes aims and objectives, is divided into agreed programmes of work for each year group. Commendably, the programmes are further broken down into modules and topics, using the junior cycle syllabus as a flexible framework, and each topic outlines the specific learning outcomes, methodologies and resources, on a week-by-week basis; there is also flexibility to deal with emerging issues if necessary. The document is presented in tabular form, making it user-friendly and easy to modify as part of the programme evaluation and review.
During the evaluation, several teachers also presented very good individual schemes of work, which were based on the school’s SPHE programme, but which indicated how the general programmes of work had been specially tailored for individual class groups; this is commended. Teachers should feel confident in maintaining the flexibility to tailor content to suit the needs of their particular class group, where necessary, thus allowing for differentiation in teaching and learning. It is not always possible, or desirable from a learning point of view, that each class group would be moving at the same pace, particularly when the content might be challenging. The emphasis should be on planning realistically to allow students time to explore behaviour and attitudes, thus ensuring that the process and students’ classroom experiences of SPHE are an important component of a lesson.
Individual planning documents provided evidence that a number of teachers have developed the practice of completing a short reflective diary, following each lesson. This is excellent professional practice that has the potential to inform planning as well as teaching.
Support materials, resources, educational packs and videos have been built up over the years and are available to all team members. It is commendable that as part of individual planning, teachers have selected and filed a variety of materials such as information leaflets and student handouts for classroom use. Discussions with the SPHE team during the evaluation indicated that one of the challenges of teaching the subject is finding resource materials that are suitable, yet up to date. The school also reports difficulties in accessing suitable classroom materials for SPHE for students with special educational needs.
Valuable links have been established with a number of outside agencies in the area of health promotion. It is laudable that the school was involved in the development of some draft materials, as part of a pilot project with NUIG; the resulting publication Mind Matters is now used as a resource in schools for the promotion of positive mental health.
There was evidence of some excellent short term planning and preparation of materials for the lessons observed, resulting in well-structured and well-sequenced lessons. In a number of cases, teachers presented high-quality lesson plans that outlined the aims, objectives, materials and methodologies, as well as the sequence and stages of the lesson. All lessons had a clear purpose and teachers generally set the scene by reminding students of the previous week’s work, and then, commendably, shared the learning outcomes with the class, thus helping students focus on the purpose of the lesson from the outset. Similarly, lessons concluded by summarising the key points and by referring to the subsequent lesson. This good practice of setting the learning in context is particularly important in SPHE where lessons are delivered in one period per week.
In many of the lessons observed, the use of a variety of appropriate methodologies provided students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning. Teachers are commended for this approach, which is consistent with the aims of SPHE, two of which are to promote self-esteem and self-confidence and to provide opportunities for reflection and discussion. One of a series of lessons on growth and development, from the RSE module, provided students with opportunities to focus on their uniqueness and to explore some of the changes occurring during puberty. While sitting in a circle, students, of their own free will, shared the best thing that happened to me so far this year; this very powerful session was well facilitated and supported by the teacher. Attention then shifted to a collage of students’ childhood photographs to focus on how they had changed outwardly over the years. A short and well-processed visualisation provided some time for individual reflection on changes in students’ own lives. Class members then worked independently on a worksheet on how I have changed, before engaging in a group exercise where they were invited to stand up, move around and find someone you are comfortable sharing with. A game entitled the same but different was very effectively used to reinforce the concept of uniqueness and a final reflection entitled Don’t Limit Me was a fitting conclusion to the lesson. The activities of the lesson were interspersed with timely input from the teacher and opportunities for students to ask questions. One of the most significant features of this lesson, which demonstrated a model of best practice in terms of planning, teaching and learning, was that each student was facilitated throughout the lesson, in a supportive and encouraging manner, to actively participate, in his or her own learning.
There were some very good examples of well managed and effectively used group work. In a lesson on smoking, students worked in small groups and were given a task that required the use of problem-solving, decision making and higher order thinking skills, based on their previous knowledge. Roles in the groups were clearly defined and students engaged well with the task by exploring and discussing their own attitudes with their peers. Following the feedback, which was very well processed, key points were emphasised and new information was appropriately introduced as necessary. In a lesson entitled pulling together, a series of pictures was effectively used as trigger material for students; in their small groups, key words were suggested to describe the activities illustrated in the pictures. The task was then processed, whereby the teacher facilitated the feedback, and through the use of good probing questions, the concept of conflict was introduced.
A variety of flash cards, each of which contained a statement related to self-image, provided a good introduction to a well-planned lesson on self-image. While working in groups, this exercise provided the students with opportunities to distinguish between affirming talk and killer talk. Following the well-processed feedback, students individually completed a personal file, using structured prompts to help them identify their own unique qualities and talents and in a well-facilitated session, students had the option of openly acknowledging their qualities and talents. In the interactions with individual students and with the whole class group, perhaps without even realising it, the teacher continuously modelled affirming talk and behaviour throughout the lesson; this had a very positive effect on the students.
The use of everyday examples and of linking learning to students’ own experiences, both in the home and at school, accompanied by very clear instruction from the teacher, ensured that the key messages were delivered in a lesson on hazards and personal safety. One of a series of lessons on alcohol and its effects, helped students examine the implications of the use of alcohol for personal behaviour and responsibility; appropriately there was also a strong emphasis on the acquisition of accurate knowledge in this lesson. Class members were immediately engaged by a quick brainstorm and students then worked in groups on a test questionnaire to check the accuracy of their knowledge on the topic. In processing the feedback, the teacher vigilantly clarified misconceptions and ensured that students were armed with the correct facts; some good discussion emerged from the exercise. Using a carefully chosen information sheet, each group identified four things you did not know about alcohol. Commendably, a concluding reflective exercise required each student to focus on what they had learned in the lesson.
Students, in the main, engaged well with the content of the lessons and this was most successful when the well-planned methodologies were accompanied by a facilitative teaching style. The SPHE class provides an ideal forum for all students to develop confidence through the participatory methods suggested for this subject; in the planning of lessons consideration should be always given to how best to engage all students in their own learning and in the activities of the classroom. Opportunities to share good practice in this area should be considered as part of the SPHE planning meetings.
In all classes visited, the learning atmosphere was pleasant and supportive. There was a sense of a safe space for students and a very good rapport was evident between students and their teachers. Classroom management was excellent and in many cases, teachers reminded students of the ground rules that had been agreed for the SPHE class in order to establish the necessary climate of respect and trust; this is commendable.
It is commendable that, in some classes, a system has been developed for students to file and store personal materials from the SPHE lessons; this either takes the form of a folder or a student workbook containing lesson materials and activities. The folders and workbooks are generally stored securely in the classroom and are distributed to students at the beginning of each lesson. This good practice ensures that students and their parents have a tangible record of work and achievement for the year and it also guarantees that students’ work, which might be of a personal nature, is not left lying aimlessly around the classroom. It is recommended that, where this is not existing practice, students should be encouraged to adopt a system for the filing of SPHE lesson materials to maintain a record of completed work and to consolidate the very good work that is taking place in SPHE lessons.
There was some evidence of encouraging students to reflect on and evaluate their own learning, as part of a lesson, and this is good practice in terms of students being involved in the evaluation of their own learning and because of the value of assessment at the time of learning. However, there is no formal system of assessing students’ progress in SPHE. While the concept of assessment may seem contradictory to the spirit and principles of the subject, assessment is not necessarily just about measuring how much or how well a topic has been learned, but rather it should be viewed as an integral and continuous part of teaching and learning, that involves students as much as teachers. Assessment can be a tool for learning, as well as a measure of learning. It is recommended that the SPHE team explore the area of assessment, and that planning for the assessment of students’ progress be incorporated with planning for teaching and learning. Student reflection and self-assessment could inform programme planning and review of teaching and learning. Discussions on assessment of students’ progress should also involve an exploration of methods of reporting on progress to parents. 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, information on assessment for learning is available on the NCCA website (www.ncca.ie).
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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, deputy principal and HSCL coordinator at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.