An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
St Louis Secondary School
Dundalk, County Louth
Roll number: 63910U
Date of inspection: 23 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 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 Louis Secondary School, Dundalk. 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 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.
Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is given high priority in St Louis Secondary School, Dundalk. Management reports that four years ago, the necessity to timetable SPHE, on what was then an overcrowded curriculum, was one of the critical factors that prompted a review of the junior cycle curriculum in the school. As a result of this review the number of examination subjects was reduced, SPHE was introduced to comply with the requirements of Circular Letter M11/03 and Pastoral Care was formalised on the timetable. Currently SPHE and Pastoral Care are each timetabled for one single period per week for all junior cycle students. The school is highly commended for its commitment to providing for the social and personal development of students in accordance with Section 9(d) of the Education Act, 1998. Commendable efforts are made to inform parents about SPHE and related activities. This occurs, for example, at open days, information evenings and parent-teacher meetings.
There is a core team of teachers for SPHE and it is good to note that there is openness to having new members join the team. In the current school year five teachers are involved in the delivery of the subject. Management tries to ensure that the same teacher brings a class group through all three years of junior cycle. However this is not always possible due to changes in personnel. During this evaluation, for example, four members of the team, including the co-ordinator, were substitute teachers. All of them are commended for the enthusiasm with which they have embraced SPHE, particularly as it is the first time for some members of the team to teach the subject. It was evident during the evaluation that the progressive and enthusiastic approach to the organisation and co-ordination of SPHE in the school has been and is a contributing factor to the success of the subject.
A positive whole-school approach results in a supportive environment for the organisation and delivery of SPHE. Management encourages and facilitates continuing professional development (CPD). It is commendable that all of the SPHE teachers, including the substitute teachers and a small number intending to join the team in the next school year, have attended the two-day Introductory Training provided by the SPHE Support Service. Team members have also attended a range of other relevant training events including the Continuation Training and the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) training. The ongoing identification of the team’s training needs and the maintenance of careful records of training completed are examples of good practice within the SPHE department. This strategic and incremental approach to the development of teachers’ skills is most commendable. On return from in-service, teachers prepare a short report indicating the key messages from the training and outlining any resources obtained. This report is circulated to the other team members and this practice is commended. The provision of a folder and information pack, compiled by the subject co-ordinator, provides further evidence of the efforts made to induct and support teachers who are new to SPHE. Training for the team members is complemented by the organisation of a variety of whole-staff training events in areas related to SPHE and Pastoral Care.
The allocation of a dedicated classroom for SPHE is a welcome development and it is a rich resource for students and their teachers. Congratulations are extended to all concerned for the efforts made to enhance this stimulating and appealing learning space. The walls of the classroom are adorned with a range of well-chosen posters and information sheets which are organised according to the SPHE modules. A collection of thought-provoking quotations on health promotion and samples of students’ work are also exhibited. Indeed, the theme of health promotion extends to the corridor outside of the classroom. It is noteworthy that each junior cycle class has created their own individual set of ground rules for SPHE lessons. Commendably, each set of rules is prominently positioned on the notice board at the top of the classroom. A filing cabinet, lockers and bookshelves are used effectively to store resources and materials for teaching and learning. The careful attention to the cataloguing and organisation of all of the resources ensures that they are easily accessible for lessons. The room contains an overhead projector and a DVD player and access is available to other information and communication technology (ICT) facilities as required.
Currently, the desks and chairs in the classroom are arranged in two rows in a u-shape to seat up to thirty students. It is recommended that the SPHE team reviews this arrangement in order to maximise the potential of the room for SPHE lessons. The removal of most of the desks, for example, would greatly facilitate many of the participative and experiential methodologies that are recommended for SPHE. It would also provide more space for students to access some of the very valuable information that is displayed on the classroom walls.
There is a very organised approach to planning the SPHE programme in the school. The SPHE team meets at least once a term. Management facilitates subject department planning through the provision of time for meetings as part of school development planning. Extra meetings are arranged in collaboration with the principal. It is good practice that the team meetings are minuted.
Excellent progress has been made in planning for SPHE. A subject department plan has been developed. This plan, entitled SPHE Department Handbook, provides details of the organisation, planning and delivery of the subject in the school. A substantial part of the subject plan is the school’s SPHE programme and commendably this is based on the junior cycle SPHE curriculum framework. The programme is presented in tabular form and it clearly outlines the work to be covered in each of the three years of junior cycle. Each of the ten modules is divided into a series of relevant topics. The learning outcomes, methodologies and resources are comprehensively documented for each topic. The result is a programme that is clear, coherent and developmental. The school reports that the current programme was reviewed in the last academic year as part of the school development planning process. It is good to note that, as part of the planning process, the SPHE department has used the document from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) entitled Intercultural Education in the Post-Primary School.
In addition to the SPHE Department Handbook, each teacher has a folder containing sample lessons and a wide variety of resources that match the topics outlined in the SPHE programme. During the evaluation, some teachers presented very good individual planning documents, which were based on the school’s SPHE programme, but which indicated how this programme had been specially tailored for individual class groups. A few of the individual planning documents provided evidence that teachers engage in reflective practice following lessons. This is excellent practice and it has the potential to inform planning as well as teaching.
During the evaluation, evidence was provided that work has begun on cross-curricular planning in terms of identifying formal links between the teaching of topics in SPHE and a range of other subjects. This is commended. It is noted that a large number of teachers and students are involved in a variety of whole-school, cross-curricular and extra-curricular activities that complement the work of SPHE in the classroom. These include, for example, the Cool School Programme, peer mentoring, Healthy Living Week and Pastoral Care. Class teachers are timetabled with their particular junior cycle class for one period of Pastoral Care each week. The pastoral care programme has been developed and is coordinated by the deputy principal. The Cool School Programme is also delivered as part of the pastoral care programme. The school reports that there is very close liaison between the pastoral care co-ordinator and the SPHE co-ordinator and this is good practice. It is also acknowledged that the content of each individual programme is documented.
Given the large number of teachers involved in the delivery of Pastoral Care, the Cool School Programme and SPHE, and as the programmes develop, it is important that each teacher continues to be fully aware of the elements of each of the programmes and how they complement each other. It is therefore recommended that the topics that are included in Pastoral Care and in the Cool School Programme which are also part of the SPHE curriculum should be clearly identified and documented in each of the three programmes. The identification and agreement of learning outcomes for the common topics in each of the programmes would ensure a coherent and comprehensive approach with no overlap in content. This work could be summarised in tabular form and made available to the relevant teachers.
In junior cycle, RSE is delivered, as is appropriate, as part of SPHE. In senior cycle, RSE is delivered as part of Religious Education by a number of teachers who have undertaken training in this area. It is good to note that there is liaison between the SPHE co-ordinator and the religious education co-ordinator in this regard. The school’s senior cycle RSE programme was presented during the evaluation. The programme provides an outline of the topics to be covered. It is recommended that this written programme should be further developed so that the content of the programme is clearly documented. It would be useful to develop the programme in a similar style to the SPHE programme by agreeing and documenting the learning outcomes for each topic. Cognisance should also be taken of the content of the current junior cycle RSE programme to ensure that there is a coherent and developmental approach to the planning and implementation of RSE from first year through to sixth year. The process should include opportunities to consult with parents and students about the content of the programme. In further developing the RSE programme, the school might find it useful to refer to the Resource Materials for Relationships and Sexuality Education Post-Primary: Senior Cycle and the Resource Materials for Relationships and Sexuality Education Post-Primary: Junior Cycle. Both of these publications are available in hard copy or they can be downloaded from the website of the SPHE Support Service (www.sphe.ie).
A policy has been developed for RSE as part of the school development planning process. This policy should guide the development of the RSE programme as outlined in the previous paragraph. When the policy is due for review, the support materials and the policy template for RSE that are available on the website of the Department of Education and Science (www.education.ie) might be useful in this process.
In all of the classes visited the learning atmosphere was pleasant, encouraging and affirming. There was evidence of positive relationships and a good rapport between students and their teachers. Classroom management was very good. Roll calls were taken and students were reminded of the ground rules for SPHE lessons at the outset and throughout lessons as required. The fact that each class group had developed and agreed their own individual rules at the beginning of the year ensured that students had ownership of the process. The use of the dedicated SPHE classroom for lessons appeared to provide students with a sense of place and a sense of space for SPHE.
There was evidence of good short-term planning and preparation of resources for the lessons observed. Teachers shared the topic of the lesson with the students and they often set the scene by recapping on the previous week’s work. Establishing links with prior learning is particularly important in SPHE where it is delivered in one single class period per week. In one particular lesson the teacher shared the planned learning outcomes of the lesson with the students and recorded them on the white board. At the end of the lesson she returned to the outcomes to check and summarise learning, before closing with a reference to what would be covered in the subsequent lesson. This excellent practice provides a framework for lessons and ensures that the focus is on learning as well as on teaching. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons. The learning outcomes documented in the school’s SPHE programme will be very useful in this regard. It is important to note that the learning outcomes should be developmental and should focus on behaviour, skills and attitudes as well as information.
In the main, the pacing of lessons was good and students were allowed time and space to reflect on the concepts of the lessons. Consideration should always be given to the amount of material to be covered in any lesson relative to the abilities of the students.
Student engagement was most successful when the lessons were supported by well-chosen and well-used active learning methodologies. In addition to teacher input, the use of the whiteboard, handouts and worksheets, teachers incorporated strategies such as pair work, group work, brainstorming, problem solving, quiz and student reflection. A lesson from the module on Self-Management provided an excellent practical example of whole-class engagement. In this lesson, students learned how to use the concept of mind mapping. The students were enthusiastic about the process and they were excited that this skill would support them with both class work and homework.
In one particular lesson from the module on Belonging and Integrating, there was a very good example of well-managed group work and the effective processing of feedback following the group-work activity. This was facilitated by the effective use of probing and higher-order questions that were directed at individual students. It is always important that whole-class discussion is well managed so that students who are more confident in speaking out in class do not dominate the discussion. The SPHE class is an ideal forum to provide opportunities for students, who may be shy or apprehensive about speaking aloud in groups, to develop confidence in this area. The use of an icebreaker or energiser at the beginning of lessons is also worthy of consideration.
There is scope for further development of the experiential learning methodologies that are recommended for SPHE. In addition to supporting the range of students’ preferred learning styles, an experiential learning environment will ensure that the process of learning is as important as the content. It is recommended that the development of experiential methodologies be included as part of subject planning. Consideration should be given to providing opportunities at SPHE planning meetings for teachers, who are competent and experienced in the participative and experiential learning methodologies, to share experience and good practice with colleagues about the effective use of such methodologies in the classroom. Further information and advice on methodologies for SPHE is available in the Guidelines for Teachers (pages 21-28) and from the SPHE Support Service.
It is good to note that some work has already begun on the planning of assessment for SPHE in the school. In a small number of lessons observed, some good opportunities were provided to assess students’ progress. Oral questioning and a variety of student worksheets were used to check students’ knowledge and understanding as well providing them with opportunities to reflect on themselves and on the content of the lessons. In some cases, students recorded key points from lessons in their copybooks. Some homework was also allocated where appropriate. There were a few good examples where students were encouraged to apply what they had learned to their own lives. Commendably, in one particular lesson students were asked at its conclusion to focus on what they had learned.
It is commendable that, in all classes, students used a folder to file and store personal materials from the SPHE lessons. This good practice ensures that students and their parents have a tangible record of work and achievement in the subject. It is recommended that rather than beginning a new folder each year, students should keep the folder so that the materials accumulate over the three-year cycle. This folder could then act as a useful resource for the assessment process throughout the junior cycle.
In order to progress the good work that has already begun it is now timely for the SPHE team to further explore and extend the range of assessment modes appropriate to SPHE. In particular, the area of assessment for learning (AfL) should be developed. Planning for the assessment of students’ progress would then be incorporated with planning for teaching and learning by linking assessment to the learning outcomes of lessons. 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. The development of a portfolio is another option to consider. 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, the NCCA website (www.ncca.ie) contains information on AfL, which teachers might find useful. In developing the area of assessment, some discussion could also take place on developing the area of reporting on students’ progress in SPHE.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is a positive whole-school approach and a supportive environment for the organisation and delivery of SPHE in the school.
· A core team of very committed teachers is facilitated and supported to attend the necessary in-service training.
· The progressive and enthusiastic approach to the organisation and co-ordination of SPHE in the school has been and is a contributing factor to the success of the subject.
· The allocation of a dedicated classroom for SPHE is a rich resource and it provides a stimulating and appealing learning space.
· Excellent progress has been made in planning for SPHE. The school’s SPHE programme is clear, coherent and developmental.
· Cross-curricular planning has begun and a variety of whole-school, cross-curricular and extra-curricular activities complement the work of SPHE in the classroom.
· A policy has been developed for RSE. In junior cycle, RSE is delivered as part of SPHE and in senior cycle as part of Religious Education.
· The learning atmosphere was pleasant, encouraging and affirming. There was evidence of positive relationships and a good rapport between students and their teachers.
· Student engagement was most successful when the lessons were supported by well-chosen and well-used active learning methodologies.
· Some work has begun on the planning of assessment for SPHE in the school.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· In order to maximise the potential of the dedicated SPHE room, the arrangement of the furniture should be reviewed.
· The topics that are included in Pastoral Care and in the Cool School Programme which are also part of the SPHE curriculum should be clearly identified and documented in each of the three programmes to ensure a coherent approach with no overlap in content.
· The written programme for senior cycle RSE should be developed in a similar way to junior cycle RSE so that the content of the senior cycle programme is clearly outlined.
· The development of experiential learning methodologies and the sharing of practice in this area should be included as part of subject department planning.
· The range of assessment modes for SPHE should be further explored and extended. In particular, the area of assessment for learning (AfL) should be developed.
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.