An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Social Personal and Health Education
Coláiste Eanna CBS
Ballyroan, Dublin 16
Roll number: 60342R
Date of inspection: 7 October 2009
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 Coláiste Eanna, Ballyroan. 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 co-ordinator. 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.
Coláiste Eanna is a voluntary secondary school for boys with a current enrolment of 553 students. Classes are organised into mixed-ability groups. SPHE is appropriately provided as a core subject on the curriculum for all junior cycle students. The time provision and the timetable arrangements for the subject are in line with Circular Letter M11/03. Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is provided as an integral component of the SPHE programme at junior cycle. Appropriate provision is made for senior cycle RSE, which is delivered through the religious education (RE) programme, with some aspects covered as part of the biology programme. An eight-week module covering SPHE-related topics, for one double period per week, has recently been introduced as part of the Transition Year (TY) programme. The provision of this additional programme for TY students is highly commended as it continues to support their personal development as they grow and mature. When organising the timetable, consideration should be given to timetabling classes in one of the junior cycle year groups concurrently for SPHE. This may facilitate a modular approach to the delivery of the subject in line with the various expertise and preferences of teachers and also enhance a collaborative approach to teaching and learning.
SPHE is currently delivered by a team of seven teachers, with varying levels of experience of the programme and methodologies. Teachers are assigned to teach SPHE following prior consultation with management, which is good practice. The school is cognisant of the need to build its capacity to deliver the SPHE and RSE programmes and recognises the need to consolidate the present team of teachers to deliver the programme. There is a need to consolidate this core team of SPHE teachers and expand their experience and expertise to deliver the programme. This development will also contribute to the work of the recently enhanced pastoral care structures. Where possible and appropriate, management should try to ensure that teachers remain with their class groups for the three-year cycle. This will ensure that a consistent pedagogical approach can be developed from year to year and regular contact with their class groups will ensure that teachers can develop a positive rapport with their students. This will also help to establish an open and trusting learning environment that is central to learning in SPHE.
Management encourages continuing professional development (CPD) and teachers are facilitated to attend the range of in-service courses offered by the SPHE Support Service. It is commendable that records of attendance at in-service and the particular type of training received are maintained. An incremental approach has been taken by the school to support the CPD of some of the SPHE team. As there are a number of teachers new to the subject, it is recommended that those teachers who are currently teaching the programme, but who have not yet received any in-service training, should be facilitated to attend the introductory course as soon as is practicable. This will ensure that these teachers are familiar with the range of approaches to teaching the programme and to facilitating students’ learning. Support for the future professional needs of the current team should also be strategically planned to ensure the continued expansion of teachers’ knowledge and skills to meet the needs of the school.
A consultative approach is taken to policy formation at the school, involving members of the board of management, staff and parents, with students appropriately included where relevant. Policies relevant to SPHE and RSE have been developed to support the students and the work of the school, including policies on substance use, anti-bullying, code of behaviour and critical incident. The inclusion of some of these policies in the student journal is good practice and serves as a useful reference for students and parents. Management provided confirmation that the Child Protection Guidelines have been adopted, in line with the requirements of the Department. The school’s current RSE policy is outdated and has been identified by the school for review. The progression of this task is recommended and the school should be guided by Circular Letter 27/08 in this regard. Care should be taken to ensure that the revised policy provides clear guidance to parents, students and teachers on all aspects related to the content and delivery of the programme, including catering for the diversity of students attending the school.
The school is proactive in promoting student well-being and ensuring that a respectful atmosphere pervades. Recent developments such as the introduction of a class-tutor system and an annual focus week to tackle bullying contribute to the pastoral care of students. The Positive Attitude Coláiste Eanna (PACE) initiative is an innovative method of promoting and rewarding positive behaviour and involvement in school life. In addition, the introduction of Physical Education on the curriculum for some students supports their physical well-being and complements aspects of the SPHE programme. The phased introduction of Physical Education, which is planned for all students, is an exceptionally positive initiative that will contribute greatly to students’ educational experience in Coláiste Eanna and would be in line with the Department’s curricular guidelines.
There is a good range of resources, including access to information and communication technology (ICT) to support teaching and learning. A number of televisions and DVD players are available to classrooms when required. The provision and support for the acquisition of resources is good and management ensures that the subject department is well resourced. Teacher-based classrooms provide opportunities for the display of students’ work and for the alternative arrangement of the furniture to accommodate many of the interactive and discursive tasks involved in the effective teaching of the subject. The size and layout of the classrooms were sufficient to allow for good student and teacher mobility, which is essential for active and participatory learning experiences promoted in SPHE.
The work of the co-ordinator is central to the delivery of the SPHE and RSE programmes in the school and this role is very well executed. Significant progress has been made in developing a comprehensive subject plan and detailed programmes of work for all year groups. Support for teachers who are new to the subject is exemplary. This support includes providing new teachers with the programme of work, including the lesson plans and suggested resources, prepared for these teachers in advance. The recent introduction of a formal subject department meeting for SPHE, once per year, is welcomed. It is recommended that, when possible, some additional subject department meetings for SPHE should be facilitated to provide formal opportunities for teachers to discuss the content, resources and approaches to learning and teaching. This will provide a valuable forum to support teachers new to the subject, develop a collaborative approach to the planning process and support the delivery of the programme. Over time, engagement in this planning process will enhance and strengthen the development of the core team.
The SPHE subject plan provides a detailed overview of the organisation, planning and delivery of the subject in the school. Planning for the ten modules at junior cycle, including RSE, follows the recommended framework in the Guidelines for Teachers. The practice of revisiting each module every year ensures that students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes are developed in an incremental manner. The provision of planning folders for each year group ensures that students follow a common programme of work and this has resulted in a well-planned and comprehensive programme. The identification of each module and topic along with the accompanying resources provides a useful reference for teachers and ensures that the programme is delivered in a coherent and relevant manner.
It is good practice that the SPHE plans are reviewed periodically. To enhance the review process, consideration should be given to including the views of students. This may take the form of a focused questionnaire to highlight students’ views of the topic, resources and methods used. This provides valuable and informative feedback to subject teachers, which in turn ensures that planning is focused on meeting the needs of the students.
Some very commendable planning for SPHE beyond regular class contexts has been effected. A very useful and innovative rubric has been developed to identify the possible contribution of a number of curricular subjects to each of the ten modules in SPHE. The expansion of these cross-curricular links to establish the common areas of knowledge and specific skills will further enhance this valuable planning tool. A number of links have been established with relevant external agencies that contribute to the work of the school and the SPHE department. In keeping with good practice, guest speakers are sourced from reputable agencies and are suitably qualified to present to students on the focused topic. The procedures, described during the evaluation, for the inclusion of guest speakers follows good practice, with the material relevant to the topic covered with students prior to the arrival of the guest speaker. In this way, students are more informed and are better placed to engage in more meaningful debate on relevant issues with the guest speaker. These procedures should be documented and included in the subject plan. Further information is available in Section 7 of the SPHE School Handbook.
The SPHE syllabus, Guidelines for Teachers and the SPHE School Handbook are readily accessible to teachers. Planning for the provision of resources includes the identification, sourcing and dissemination of material and other resources to support teaching and learning in SPHE, which is commendable practice. The range of available resources is mostly up-to-date and it is recommended that these be periodically reviewed and additional items identified as the need arises. Resources are centrally stored and this good practice ensures that all members of the SPHE team have easy access to the materials in preparation for their lessons.
It is commendable that some use is made of ICT in the preparation of class materials and in subject planning. Given the availability of ICT in the school, it is recommended that planning be extended to include its use as a tool to support teaching and learning. As ICT is used by some teachers, consideration should be given to sharing how this technology may be used effectively to support learning in the SPHE lesson. ICT may be particularly effective when addressing topics on personal safety, such as internet safety and cyber-bullying.
There was good evidence of considered individual planning for the lessons observed, with all of the necessary materials and resources to support learning prepared in advance. In the lessons visited the topics covered were study skills and completing homework, mental health, self-image and goal-setting. Good procedures were evident at the commencement of lessons and students settled quickly. In most cases, teachers shared the content of the lesson at the outset with students and in some cases also shared the learning intentions. In one case, the lesson task and purpose was highlighted on the board and this excellent practice, in keeping with the principles of assessment-for-learning, provided students with clear direction and focus for their learning. In most cases, teachers also placed the topic of the lesson in context for students by linking it to previous learning and to their own experiences. It is recommended that all teachers adopt these strategies to identify the intended learning outcomes in terms of the specific knowledge, skills and values that students should acquire and develop as a result of their engagement, in addition to providing a context for their learning.
The quality of teaching and learning in the SPHE lessons observed was dependent on the methodologies used and ranged from satisfactory to very good. In the instances of best practice, students were engaged in interactive tasks from an early stage of their lessons. In other lessons, a traditional whole-class approach was dominant, which was dependent on the teacher directing classroom interactions, mostly through question and answer activities, with some interactive activities late in these lessons. A whole-class approach is effective in SPHE to introduce the topic, set the tasks and to process students’ experiences to consolidate learning. However, quality teaching and learning in SPHE is also dependent on facilitating students to engage with the focused topic through experiential and active methods. Effective teaching and learning strategies should be discussed by the teachers of SPHE as a means of promoting a consistent approach to the delivery of the subject and also to provide collegial support in the use of the range of methodologies. Involvement in the in-service programme will also help to familiarise teachers with the range of appropriate methodologies. Teachers should review Section 5 of the SPHE School Handbook for further information and ideas of successful approaches to teaching SPHE.
In the instances of good practice, teachers developed their lessons through a facilitative approach, giving the students opportunities for self-reflection, sharing and discussing the topic in pairs or small groups and reaching a consensus at the end of the lesson. The promotion of self-reflection and analysis is central to achieving the aims of the SPHE programme. In one lesson on effective strategies for homework, students completed a reflective task on their own, shared and analysed their responses to the focused questionnaire in pairs and then contributed to the plenary session, where the variety of responses were placed and categorised on the board. Similarly, another lesson provided students with time to complete a poster that reflected many of their hopes for the future, with time provided at the end of the lesson for students to share and answer questions with their classmates. These facilitative approaches were very effective in achieving the intended learning outcomes for the lesson. In other lessons, students’ learning would have benefitted from greater opportunities to work through the material for themselves either individually or in pairs or small groups.
A variety of resources and stimulus material was used to promote students’ learning, including worksheets, questionnaires, magazines, a case study and fact sheets and question sheets displayed through a data-projector. These were generally effective in stimulating students’ interest and generating discussion.
In all cases, instructions and explanations were clear and precise. Students’ participation in the classroom activities was closely monitored by the teacher and help and assistance was afforded when required. There was a caring atmosphere evident in all lessons. All teachers demonstrated a good ability to keep students on task and have established a positive and affirming approach to classroom interactions.
Teachers ensured that students’ learning was consolidated at the end of the lesson mostly through effective questioning. In one case, students recorded their learning in a class diary, which is highly commendable practice as it enables students to gauge how they are progressing as a result of their engagement in the set tasks. Students demonstrated a good knowledge of the subject material when questioned and were confident in their responses.
Continuous informal assessment is carried out in class to measure students’ competence and progress in SPHE. Although practice varies among teachers, a range of assessment strategies are used including questioning, completion of worksheets and written tasks. It is commendable that self-assessment strategies are also used on occasion to enable students to reflect on their learning in a particular module. Students retain a record of their work in a dedicated folder, in a copybook or in their workbook. In some cases, students maintain a diary of the work completed in each class, which is exemplary practice as they are encouraged to record personal reflections of their learning. In some cases, students’ work was notated with some formative comments by teachers, which provides them with valuable feedback on their progress and affirms their efforts.
It is recommended that the assessment process be further developed. Teachers should devote some time to discussing and agreeing a common range of formative and summative assessment strategies. The sharing of best practice in relation to the various forms of assessment used by teachers should form the basis of these discussions. In addition, assessment of students’ progress should be incorporated into planning for teaching and learning, with particular emphasis on expanding the assessment-for-learning strategies. A common approach to retaining students work should also be agreed, and the use of a dedicated folder should be considered. In this way, students can keep a record of their work over the three years of the junior cycle. Students may also use their folders to select samples of their best work to represent their engagement and understanding, with this portfolio forming part of the assessment process. Further information and advice on assessment in SPHE is available in the SPHE Guidelines for Teachers and from the SPHE Support Service.
Appropriate class records of students’ attendance and progress are maintained by teachers. It is commendable that the school informs parents of students’ progress in SPHE through annual parent-teacher meetings and school reports four times per year. The frequency of this reporting is exemplary and ensures that students receive formative feedback regarding their learning and progress in SPHE.
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.
Published May 2010