An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Social Personal and Health Education
St. Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School,
St Patrick’s Close, Dublin 8
Roll number: 60660I
Date of inspection: 19 September 2008
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 St. Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School. 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 teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School is a co-educational school with a current enrolment of 129 students. The school offers the Junior Certificate, Transition Year programme (TY) and the established Leaving Certificate. There is one class group in each year and all classes are organised into mixed-ability settings.
SPHE is a core subject on the curriculum for all junior cycle students and the time provision and timetable arrangements are in accordance with circular M11/03. In addition, TY students are timetabled for a module of Health Education, which includes many SPHE-related concepts. The provision of this programme is commended as it continues to assist students to develop their knowledge, skills, attitudes and values relevant to their wellbeing. Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is provided as an integral part of SPHE at junior cycle. It was reported that some aspects of the senior cycle RSE programme are also delivered to TY students as part of their health education programme. However, there is no formal RSE policy or programme adopted or developed in the school. An RSE policy should be developed as a matter of priority as specified in circular 27/08. Guidelines on the development of an RSE policy may be obtained on the website of the Department of Education and Science (DES) www.education.ie. The school should also ensure that a comprehensive RSE programme is undertaken by all students in both junior and senior cycle in line with circular letters M4/95, M20/96 and the RSE Guidelines for Post-Primary Schools. This programme should be developed by the SPHE co-ordinator in consultation with management, parents and the relevant teachers involved.
There are two teachers currently deployed to teach SPHE, both of whom are relatively new to the subject, but are willing and interested in teaching it. It is good practice that both teachers also teach another subject to their SPHE class groups as this ensures regular contact and familiarity with students. It is also commendable that management endeavours to ensure that teachers retain their class groups for the duration of the junior cycle as this helps to build positive relationships, trust and rapport with the students, which are essential given the personal nature of the subject. One of the SPHE teachers, who also co-ordinates the subject, has attended the introductory inservice provided by the SPHE support service. In addition, the school recently organised an inservice session for all members of staff on a whole-school approach to SPHE, which was provided by the regional development officer (RDO) of the support service. In order to build capacity and expertise to deliver the SPHE programme in the school, it is recommended that additional members of staff be invited, through consultation, to teach the subject in keeping with best practice. A strategic approach should be taken by management to facilitate all teachers to continue to develop their expertise through attendance at relevant SPHE inservice. The professional development programme of the SPHE support service can be obtained on www.sphe.ie.
A number of initiatives have been undertaken by the school to promote staff awareness and knowledge of issues such as substance abuse and first-aid. In addition, the promotion of health and wellbeing is often undertaken as part of curricular programmes, such as TY, where students participate in a range of physical activities and outdoor education modules that promote physical wellbeing. However, there is scope to further develop a whole-school approach to the principles of SPHE. This may take the form of displaying additional posters throughout the school to promote relevant aspects of the SPHE programme including personal safety, anti-bullying, substance use, healthy nutritional practices, emotional and mental wellbeing and the further promotion of physical activity. Focus weeks may also help to highlight each of these key areas of health and wellbeing. The involvement of the student council, or class groups, in the organisation and promotion of these activities may help to develop a sense of ownership of the events and reinforce the knowledge and attitudes relevant to leading a balanced healthy lifestyle. Such focus weeks have also been found to develop a positive sense of wellbeing within the whole school community and are most beneficial.
The Child Protection Guidelines have been adopted and a designated liaison person has been appointed. Policies relevant to SPHE, with the exception of 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. Policies are developed in consultation with the board of management, teachers, deputy principal and principal. The ongoing review of policies in future should reflect consultation with the whole-school community. To achieve this, parents and students, through their representative groups, should also be provided with the opportunity to contribute to the future review of relevant policies.
A number of appropriate links have been established with relevant external agencies including Accord, Alcoholics Anonymous, Aware and An Garda Síochana. Whilst the school has not yet drafted a policy on visiting speakers and outside agencies, it is aware of the need to ensure that any guests are from reputable organisations, are briefed prior to their arrival, that the material or topics are relevant and appropriate to the age of students and in keeping with the ethos of the school and aims of the programme. It is suggested that the practice and procedures of the school in this regard be documented and made available to all members of staff and visiting speakers.
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. A number of televisions, DVD players and overhead projectors are available to classrooms when required. A mobile data projector and laptop are available on request to support teaching and learning and teachers also have access to the computer room if available. The provision for information and communication technology (ICT) to support the work of teachers and students in the classroom is commended and the expansion of its use where practical is encouraged. The provision and support for the acquisition of resources is good and the subject department is well resourced.
The SPHE teachers are facilitated to meet formally at least once a term. Minutes of these meetings are recorded and provide evidence of a focused and progressive approach to the organisation, planning and delivery of the programme. The role of subject co-ordinator is well executed and much progress has been made, in a short period of time, in developing a comprehensive SPHE plan and detailed programme of work. Consideration should be given by management to rotating the role of subject co-ordinator amongst members of the department at regular intervals. This practice will help to share the responsibilities of this role equitably as well as providing valuable leadership experience to newer members of the programme.
The SPHE subject plan includes clear details regarding the organisation, planning and delivery of the subject in the school. A considerable section of the subject plan is devoted to the programme of work for each year group. A collaborative approach has been taken by the SPHE department to ensure that the programme of work is structured and delivered in a coherent and progressive manner over the three years of the junior cycle. There was evidence that the members of the SPHE department support each other in their work through the development and sharing of resources and through regular discussions and informal meetings.
Planning for the ten modules, including RSE at junior cycle, follows the recommended framework in the Guidelines for Teachers, which are also available and well used. The practice of delivering each module to each year group ensures that students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes are developed in an incremental manner. Furthermore, the placement of these modules in each term is well considered and appropriate to the needs of students and supports their maturation and development as they face new academic, social and personal challenges. To build on the substantial work achieved to date, it is recommended that the programme of work for each year-group be expanded to identify the specific learning outcomes, together with the mechanisms used to assess these outcomes and the most suitable learning and teaching methods for each topic. Learning outcomes should be expressed in terms of the specific knowledge, skills and attitudes that should be acquired and developed through studying each topic. The most appropriate learning and teaching and assessment methods, already identified in the general section of the subject plan, could then be applied to each specific topic. It is suggested that this task should be completed on a phased basis.
Good cross-curricular links have also been identified in the subject plan and include the identification of relevant topics or activities in Home Economics, Science, Art, Religion, Civics, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and Geography to support students’ learning. The further expansion of these links is recommended to include Guidance and Physical Education. Students’ participation in a range of co-curricular activities including annual fund-raising events and social concern programmes is commended as these may help to promote understanding of issues related to personal health and wellbeing.
A substantial range of resources including texts, videos, DVDs and worksheets are stored in a dedicated area in the staff room. This is good practice as it ensures that there is easy access to the materials in preparation for lessons. A text-book is used with each year group as a reference and resource. The judicious use of the textbook is commended. This resource provides students with additional activities that may be completed as homework or reflective tasks and is one mechanism by which they may retain some elements of their work.
Planning for guest speakers is good practice, as the material relevant to the topic is covered with students prior to their arrival. In this way, students are more informed and better placed to engage in more meaningful debate on relevant issues with the guest speakers. There is some good review of modules and supporting resources at a subject department level. The planned involvement of students in a formal end-of-module review process is commended. The implementation of this plan will provide useful feedback to the SPHE department regarding the content, resources, interest and engagement level of students.
There was a good standard of teaching and learning in all SPHE lessons observed. Teachers were well prepared for their lessons, which included a lesson plan and the preparation of class materials. The result of this good practice was that lessons had a clear purpose and were appropriately suited to the interest, ability and needs of the students. Classroom organisation was efficient and well managed. In one case, students expediently organised their seating arrangements, which facilitated an interactive approach to class tasks.
Following roll call, teachers revised the topic of previous lessons through a brief question and answer session. The revision of lesson content covered previously is especially important in SPHE to establish continuity of learning, as the subject is only provided once per week. Good practice was observed when teachers linked new material with that covered in previous lessons and set clear learning outcomes for their students. As a result, students were focused on their learning and had a clear understanding of the content and direction of their lessons.
The topics covered in the lessons observed were learning-styles and study skills and achieving a balanced lifestyle, as part of the self-management modules for second and third-year students respectively. The topic of teamwork was explored as part of the belonging and integrating module for first-year students. Good examples of appropriate experiential and active learning were evident in all lessons observed and included reflective tasks, brainstorming, discussion and pair work. Teachers are commended for their efforts to embrace these methods to promote learning in SPHE. The range of teaching strategies observed was suitable to engage students in personal reflection that involved analysis and evaluation of their attitudes and behaviours. Students were also presented with opportunities to apply their learning through discussion in pair work and analysis of their partner’s responses to the same task. These interactive methods are in keeping with the experiential and discursive nature of the subject. In some cases, the use of small-group work might have further enhanced the learning process to assist students in their application of the learned principles and this approach should be considered when appropriate.
Teachers used questioning to good effect and differentiated the type of questions to suit the ability of the student. In many cases, teachers used students’ personal experiences and responses to develop understanding of the topic. Teachers also encouraged their students to reflect, analyse and synthesise information during the completion of tasks. Worksheets, handouts, the textbook and the board were effectively used to enhance teaching and consolidate learning. It is recommended that students retain a record of the class responses and work covered in class in their copybooks as this can serve as a useful reference for future lessons on the focused topic.
Classrooms visited displayed some relevant SPHE and student-generated material. The display of student work is commendable as it is affirming of the students’ efforts and engagement in the subject, whilst also promoting the key concepts of the subject in a relevant and visually stimulating manner. The continued use of this approach is recommended and materials should be changed periodically to reflect the focused topics.
In all cases, teachers moved around the classroom to ensure that students were on task and to provide advice and assistance when necessary. There was a good code of behaviour established in all classes which resulted in a positive and affirming learning environment. Teachers afforded students many opportunities to share their opinions and this process was both affirming and enjoyable for all involved. A good rapport has been developed between students and their teachers.
Students were able to communicate and rationalise their opinions when questioned by the inspector and spoke confidently about the topics and themes covered during their SPHE lessons. In most cases, lessons concluded by summarising the main points of the lesson and outlining the topics to be covered in the next lesson, which is in keeping with good practice.
Records of students’ attendance and work covered in class are maintained by all teachers. It is commendable that the SPHE department has reflected on its assessment process. A number of strategies are currently being used as part of the formative and summative assessment of students’ learning, including questions and answers in class, observation of participation and engagement in class activities, completion of class activities and home tasks. In addition, some self-assessment and peer-assessment is also used to promote students’ self-evaluation.
Retention of students’ work takes place mostly through completion of worksheets in the students’ workbook and dedicated worksheets. The retention of students’ work in dedicated folders and the storage of these folders in a secure location are good practices as some material may be of a sensitive and personal nature. Home tasks are given occasionally, which is good practice. However, work completed by students should be regularly reviewed and annotated by teachers to provide meaningful feedback and to ensure adherence to an acceptable standard.
There is scope for the further development of the assessment process for SPHE. Some additional strategies could be developed and implemented to complement and expand the existing modes of assessment. For example, assessment for learning strategies including reflective journals and the completion of progress sheets could be used when appropriate. The SPHE department plans to develop students’ portfolios of learning, which is one of the main assessment strategies recommended for the subject. Further information and advice on assessment in SPHE, including the development of student portfolios, are available in the Guidelines for Teachers (pages 59-68). In addition, the NCCA website www.ncca.ie contains useful information on assessment for learning, which teachers may find beneficial.
SPHE is presently not included on the report forms home to parents. It is recommended that the inclusion of SPHE on the school reports home be implemented as soon as possible and that comments reflect students’ learning and attainment in the subject.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A health education module is provided for TY students that continues to develop their knowledge, skills and attitudes related to their wellbeing.
· A number of initiatives have been undertaken by the school to promote staff awareness and knowledge of issues related to SPHE.
· A number of appropriate links have been established with relevant external agencies to support the work of the school and the SPHE department.
· SPHE is well co-ordinated and a comprehensive plan and detailed programme of work have been developed to support the organisation and delivery of the subject in the school.
· Planning for the SPHE programme of work, including RSE at junior cycle, follows the recommended framework in the Guidelines for Teachers.
· The SPHE department has developed a good range of resources to support teaching and learning.
· There was a good standard of teaching and learning in all SPHE lessons observed.
· A range of appropriate active and experiential approaches is used to promote the development of knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours.
· A number of strategies are currently being used as part of the formative and summative assessment of students’ learning.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· An RSE policy and comprehensive programme for RSE must be developed and implemented as a matter of priority in accordance with Department requirements.
· The ongoing review of policies in future should reflect consultation with the whole-school community.
· The further development of a whole-school approach to the principles of SPHE is recommended.
· The role of subject co-ordinator should be rotated amongst members of the SPHE department at regular intervals.
· It is recommended that the programme of work for each year group be expanded to identify the specific learning outcomes and the most suitable learning and teaching and assessment methods for each topic.
· It is recommended that students retain a record of the class responses in their copybooks as this can serve as a useful reference for future lessons on the focused topic.
· Work completed by students should be regularly reviewed and annotated by teachers.
· There is scope for the further development of the assessment process for SPHE.
· Students’ progress and attainment in SPHE should be included in school reports to parents.
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 March 2009