An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Subject Inspection

of

Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)

REPORT

 

Loreto Secondary School

Balbriggan, Co Dublin

Roll number: 60010P

 

 Date of inspection: 14 May 2007

Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008

 

 

Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning

Assessment

Summary of main findings and recommendations

School Response to the Report

 

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 Loreto Secondary School, Balbriggan. 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 one day 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, the co-ordinator and a subject teacher. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

Subject provision and whole school support

 

Loreto Secondary School, Balbriggan, which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, is an all-girls Catholic voluntary secondary school with a current student enrolment of 1,115 girls. The school prides itself on its caring tradition and the website (www.loretobalbriggan.ie) refers to the school’s “highly developed caring ethos” and “excellent pastoral care system”. The strong focus on pastoral care is symbolised by a wide range of supports for students that includes form teachers, year heads, school chaplain, student council, student leadership team, prefects, captains and co-ordinators, as well as a twinning programme for first year students.

 

A significant feature of the pastoral care system is the well-established Orientation Programme for first years. This programme is scheduled on the first two days at the beginning of the school year. Commendably, the purpose of this praiseworthy initiative is to ease the transition for students from primary to post-primary school. The school reports that Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is delivered to first years, in the form of workshops, as part of the two-day Orientation Programme. It is noted that the workshops are based on themes from the SPHE curriculum framework focusing on modules such as Belonging and Integrating, Friendship and Self-Management. Undoubtedly, the value of the Orientation Programme to students is enormous and it also provides them with an excellent introduction to the themes and methodologies of SPHE. However, the Orientation Programme does not constitute an adequate first-year programme for SPHE, given the time limitations of the two-day event and the spiral and developmental approach necessary for the delivery of SPHE.

 

SPHE is not currently timetabled as part of the junior cycle core curriculum for first years or second years. In the current school year, third year classes are timetabled, for the first time ever, for one class period of SPHE per week. However, in the first half of the school year this period was designated for Guidance. Therefore, the current third-year students have only had access to SPHE since February 2007. Discussion during this evaluation indicated that, while students have had access to many aspects of SPHE in the past, planning has begun for the introduction of one timetabled class period per week of SPHE for all junior cycle students in the 2007/08 academic year. Such provision is important to ensure that all junior cycle students have access to SPHE in accordance with the requirements of Circular Letter M11/03, and as outlined in the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools (Section IV, Rule 20).

 

The school reports that, traditionally, Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) has been delivered as part of Religious Education (RE) in junior and senior cycles. However, a recent review of the RE policy has resulted in a decision to transfer RSE to the SPHE programme. The full implementation of SPHE in junior cycle, as outlined in the previous paragraph, will facilitate this process. Consideration should then be given to how to maintain delivery of RSE in senior cycle so as to ensure compliance with the aforementioned Rule 20 which also stipulates that a suitable RSE programme should be in place for senior cycle students. An RSE policy has been developed and is available on the school’s website.

 

It is noteworthy that a team of twelve teachers is already involved in some aspects of SPHE and they are very committed to the planning and delivery of the subject in the school. These teachers include those who are currently timetabled for SPHE in third year as well as those involved in RSE and in the first-year Orientation Programme. Management is very supportive of continuing professional development (CPD) and it is noted that ten teachers have attended some in-service training provided by the SPHE Support Service. A few of the teachers have also engaged in more specialised training in areas such as RSE, mental health, teaching students the skills of managing conflict, bullying and enabling students to cope with change and loss. In order to ensure the successful implementation of SPHE, it is recommended that the school should focus on further developing a core team of fully trained SPHE teachers. In the allocation of teachers, best practice suggests that a teacher should bring a class group through the full three-year junior cycle. Initially, it would be useful to detail the particular type of training that each team member has availed of before identifying the particular CPD needs of the team. It is recommended that the school adopts a systematic and incremental approach to the expansion of teachers’ skills in SPHE, including RSE, so that ultimately all teachers have the opportunity to proceed through all four levels of training offered by the Support Service. This will help instil confidence in teachers in the various aspects of the SPHE curriculum and support them in the development of the experiential and participative methodologies that are essential for the successful implementation of SPHE. Given that the school is embarking on a new phase of SPHE and to ensure that the subject becomes integrated as part of the core curriculum, consideration should also be given to inviting the SPHE Support Service to provide an input for the whole teaching staff.

 

Co-ordination of SPHE is the responsibility of a special duties teacher; a number of other duties are also attached to this post. The current co-ordinator was appointed at the beginning of this school year and has not, to date, been involved in teaching SPHE. In acknowledgement of the difficulties involved in co-ordinating a subject that one is not teaching or has not taught, it is recommended that the co-ordinator should be assigned to teach one junior cycle class for SPHE whenever it is practicable. Alternatively, a co-ordinator could also be appointed for each of the three year groups, perhaps on a rotating basis, from amongst the team of SPHE teachers. This would support the development of a team approach within each year group, reduce the workload and facilitate liaison between the co-ordinator and each of the year group teams.

 

 

Planning and preparation

 

Planning for SPHE is in the early stages of subject development planning. It was reported that the team of twelve teachers has met seven times in the current school year in preparation for the introduction of SPHE in junior cycle; this is commended. Planning documentation presented during the evaluation included reports of meetings, records of teachers who have attended in-service training, and information on the orientation and twinning programmes as well as draft planning documentation for first and second year. The draft programme for third year SPHE, presented during the evaluation, outlined a list of seven topics with chapter references to a textbook. The school’s RSE programme from first to sixth year was also made available to the inspector. Commendably, the RSE programme includes reference to the aims and objectives of RSE in the school and outlines the topics to be covered on a week-by-week basis. Details of supplementary talks and workshops, some of which are delivered by outside agencies, are also outlined.

 

In preparation for the introduction of SPHE to all junior cycle students, it is strongly recommended that a coherent three-year programme of work be developed for SPHE in the school. The syllabus outlines already prepared by the SPHE team will be useful in this process. The programme should be based on the Junior Cycle SPHE curriculum framework developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and approved by the Department of Education and Science; the curriculum framework is divided into ten modules. All teachers of SPHE should then use the school’s programme in planning for his or her particular class group, whilst allowing flexibility to tailor the programme to deal with specific and emerging needs. The school’s programme should outline the topics to be covered under each module, on a term-by-term basis, for each year group. In developing the SPHE programme and in order to ensure coherency and continuity, the specific learning outcomes should be outlined for each topic. It is essential that the learning outcomes focus on behaviour and attitudes as well as on knowledge and information. This approach to planning will ensure that key aspects of a module are not inadvertently omitted. In addition, topics can be revisited in each year of the cycle without becoming repetitive, thus ensuring a spiral and developmental approach to the delivery of the subject. As well as planning the content to be covered, it is recommended that careful consideration should also be given to planning for teaching and learning with a particular focus on the planning of methodologies and the planning of assessment. Considering the school’s intention to deliver RSE as part of SPHE, and given that RSE is one of the ten modules in junior cycle SPHE, the recommendations at the beginning of this paragraph regarding an outline of the topics and learning outcomes should also apply to RSE. In developing the SPHE programme, consideration could be given to some cross-curricular planning with other subject departments such as Home Economics, Science, Physical Education, Guidance and RE. It is also suggested that consultation with parents and students, as well as management and the teaching staff regarding the content of the SPHE programme would be a useful exercise in determining the needs of the current cohort of students.

 

The school has a long tradition of providing support for students through a range of co-curricular and cross-curricular activities, many of which are closely connected to topics that are central to the SPHE curriculum framework developed by the NCCA. These include activities such as the “Healthy Eating Week” as well as talks and workshops in areas such as study skills, anti-bullying and topics related to RSE. Personnel from outside agencies deliver some of the talks and workshops. In the context of the introduction of SPHE to first and second years, it is important that there be close co-ordination and planning between personnel organising and delivering these activities and the SPHE team in the school so that, in accordance with best practice, the activities are documented as part of and anchored in the school’s SPHE programme. In time, the school should also focus on the development of an SPHE policy that would include, for example, guidelines for visitors and outside agencies involved in the delivery of SPHE. It is recommended that consideration be given to inviting the local personnel from the SPHE Support Service into the school to work with and support the team in the initial stages of the planning process. In addition to the SPHE curriculum framework, the Guidelines for Teachers (pages 7–20) is also a very useful resource in planning the programme.

 

A range of resources has been collected and they are stored in a central location in the staff room. It is commendable that the resources available have been catalogued and new resources are added to the list as they are purchased. This process is important so that all team members know what is available.

 

 

Teaching and learning

 

As part of this evaluation, two third-year lessons were observed. In both classrooms, it was noted that students had a very positive attitude to the subject. An atmosphere of care and mutual respect characterised the interactions in the classrooms, resulting in a pleasant, secure and supportive learning environment. Effective use was made of student affirmation and students’ contributions and questions were encouraged and welcomed. Overall, there was a strong focus on building students’ self-confidence. Classroom management was excellent.

 

There was evidence of very good short-term planning and preparation of materials, resulting in well-structured and well-sequenced lessons. The lessons had a clear focus and there was good evidence of linking the material to previous learning. There was a nice example of sharing the learning outcomes of the lesson with the students. This very good practice provides a framework for the lesson and helps students focus on the purpose of the lesson from the outset. It also acts as a good benchmark for students to check on their learning.

 

Commendably, the pacing of the lessons was very good and students were allowed time and space to engage with, and reflect on, the key messages of the lessons. There was evidence of effective teaching and learning with a nice balance between an appropriate facilitative teaching style and the provision of clear information to students as necessary. The range of teaching strategies and the well-chosen resources facilitated student engagement, by providing opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning. This is particularly important in SPHE where the focus on behaviour and attitudes is as important as the focus on knowledge and information. A magazine article was well used as trigger material for pair work and subsequent class discussion on a lesson on body image. As part of a lesson on the effects of smoking, the examination of lists of chemicals in a range of cleaning agents and then compared with the list of ingredients in cigarettes, as well as the use of a glass container of tar, provided striking evidence for students of the ill-effects of smoking on the body. The effective use of such a variety of methodologies is highly commended. As the subject develops in the school, opportunities could be used, as part of subject planning, to share the skills, practice and experience of team members in relation to the choice and effective use of the participatory and experiential learning methodologies recommended for SPHE.

 

 

Assessment

 

In the classes observed, it is commendable that a system has been developed for students to file and store their personal materials from the SPHE lessons. This very good practice ensures that students and their parents have a concrete record of work and achievement in the subject and the material is easily accessible if students need to revisit a topic in their own time.

 

It is notable that some opportunities were provided in lessons for both assessment of learning and assessment for learning. Oral questioning, particularly the use of higher-order questions, was well used throughout lessons to check understanding and to allow students express opinions as part of class discussion. There was also some evidence of encouraging students to reflect on and evaluate their own learning at the end of a lesson; this good practice is commended. As already stated under the planning section of this report, it is recommended that as part of planning for teaching and learning, the SPHE team should further explore the area of assessment, and particularly Assessment for Learning (AfL). The planning of assessment for each lesson should be linked with the learning outcomes. The practice of sharing the learning outcomes of lessons with the students will facilitate this process. Material in students’ folders could 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. 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. As part of the discussion on assessment, consideration should be given to how the school will report to parents on students’ progress in SPHE.

 

 

Summary of main findings and recommendations

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

·         The pastoral care of students is given high priority in the school, as evidenced by activities such as the Orientation Programme and a range of other supports.

·         An RSE policy has been developed and an RSE programme is in place for all students.

·         There is commitment from the team of twelve teachers to the planning and delivery of SPHE, a co-ordinator is in place and management is very supportive of CPD.

·         An atmosphere of care and mutual respect characterised the interactions in the classrooms visited and there was a strong focus on building students’ self-confidence. Classroom management was excellent.

·         Very good short term planning resulted in well-structured lessons. There was evidence of effective teaching and learning.

·         The range of teaching strategies and the well-chosen resources facilitated student engagement, by providing opportunities for the active, participatory and experiential learning methodologies recommended for SPHE.

·         Some opportunities were provided in lessons for both assessment of learning and assessment for learning.

 

 

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

 

·         The school’s intention to provide one timetabled class period per week of SPHE for all junior cycle students in the 2007/08 academic year should be pursued, to ensure that all junior cycle students have access to SPHE in accordance with the requirements of Circular Letter M11/03.

·         The school should focus on further developing a core team of fully trained SPHE teachers and adopt a systematic and incremental approach to the expansion of teachers’ skills in SPHE and including RSE.

·         In acknowledgement of the difficulties involved in co-ordinating a subject that one is not teaching or has not taught, the co-ordinator should be assigned to teach one junior cycle class for SPHE whenever it is practicable. Alternatively, a co-ordinator could be appointed for each of the three year groups, perhaps on a rotating basis, from amongst the team of SPHE teachers.

·         A coherent three-year programme of work should be developed for SPHE in the school. Consideration should be given to inviting the local personnel from the SPHE Support Service into the school to work with and support the team in the initial stages of the planning process.

·         As part of planning for teaching and learning, the SPHE team should further explore the area of assessment and consider how the school will report to parents on students’ progress in SPHE.

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the co-ordinator, a teacher 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

 

Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report

 

The board is pleased to state that the recommendations are in place and commends the great work of the SPHE team.

 

 

Area 2: Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection

 

The recommendations are in place for the 2007/08 academic year.