An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of
Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
Scoil Mhuire agus Íde
Newcastle West County Limerick
Roll number: 64170L
Date of inspection: 11 December 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Social Personal and Health Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Scoil Mhuire agus Íde. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), including Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), 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; the board chose to accept the report without response.
The SPHE programme is provided for all junior cycle students at Scoil Mhuire agus Íde, in accordance with the requirements of CL M11/03. The Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme is provided as an integral part of the SPHE programme at junior cycle and of the Religious Education (RE) programme at senior cycle where it is timetabled in excess of the recommended time. These arrangements are in line with CL 0027/08. The Transition Year (TY) programme is optional in the school and the inclusion of a well-developed personal development module in the curriculum for all TY students is to be commended.
There is a collaborative spirit and positive attitude amongst school management and the SPHE team members at Scoil Mhuire agus Íde and it is clear that they are committed to the rationale for SPHE. A number of factors contribute to the very good whole-school support and resource provision for SPHE resulting in a very supportive school environment for the delivery of the subject. First, an enthusiastic and committed co-ordinator of SPHE is well established and always teaches SPHE. The co-ordination of SPHE is part of a special-duties post and the role of the SPHE co-ordinator is well defined. Secondly, management is committed to supporting the continued training and up-skilling of teachers as appropriate. In this regard RSE training is planned for a number of teachers. Records of all training received by team members are maintained by the school and this assists in planning for the incremental development of teachers’ knowledge and skills over time. It is school policy to have an established core group of teachers who have had training in SPHE facilitation. Almost all SPHE teachers have availed of the two-day introductory SPHE training provided by the SPHE support service and the SPHE co-ordinator has attended relevant training days. The co-ordinator disseminates information on the training available and teachers regularly share ideas they have acquired at training, at subject-department level or at whole-school level as appropriate. It is positive that whole-staff in-service on SPHE was provided a few years ago by the SPHE support service. It is notable that the SPHE team works closely with the SPHE Support Service as well as with other external support services. Thirdly, it is very good practice that teachers are assigned to SPHE by consultation and currently the SPHE teachers are all senior members of the teaching staff. Whilst many of the teachers are experienced in the delivery of the subject, it is laudable that new members are encouraged and supported to join the team, thus building capacity for the future. Fourthly, management endeavours where appropriate to allow teachers to retain their assigned class group from first year through to third year. This is commended as it enables a consistent pedagogical approach to be developed from year to year. Some SPHE teachers teach the class for another subject and this practice promotes the building up of a positive rapport between teachers and students. Fifthly, the commitment from management and teachers to support cross-curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular activities is acknowledged and it facilitates the SPHE classes particularly well. A variety of activities such as poster competitions, sports events at lunchtime and the first-year talent show complement the SPHE programme well. The provision of a wide range of guest speakers in such areas as bullying, substance use, physical health, sexual health, and personal safety is commended and supports the SPHE programme well.
The SPHE programme makes a significant contribution to the pastoral care provision at the school and it is clear that it has become an integral and significant part of school life. There is very good collaboration between the SPHE team and a large number of school personnel including, senior management, the pastoral care team, year heads, class tutors, the special needs team, the mentoring co-ordinator, the guidance counsellor, the chaplain, the RE teachers and the parents in planning for the needs of all students in the school. School structures, systems and strategies support the SPHE teachers well when providing for students’ needs including those with special educational needs. The pastoral care team meets regularly and has responsibility for supporting and co-ordinating the pastoral care programme. This team also has responsibility for responding to crisis incidents at the school and accordingly has developed a comprehensive crisis response plan. The school makes commendable efforts to inform and involve parents through a range of information evenings, when the SPHE co-ordinator gives a presentation outlining the school’s SPHE and RSE programmes. It is good practice that a letter is sent to parents in advance of the introduction of the RSE module. In the context of a whole-school approach to Guidance and pastoral care, the work of the mentoring co-ordinator is commendable as it complements both the guidance and the SPHE provision in supporting students in decision making regarding subject and programme choice.
The success factors in the planning and delivery of SPHE in Scoil Mhuire agus Íde are, first, the positive whole-school support for SPHE, secondly, the effective leadership provided by a committed SPHE co-ordinator and thirdly the dedicated and enthusiastic team of SPHE teachers.
Management facilitates collaborative planning for SPHE through the provision of meeting time, throughout the year, as part of its commitment to school development planning. In addition, teachers demonstrate goodwill in meeting informally on a regular basis for ongoing planning and review. Agenda are decided in advance of department meetings and records of subject department meetings are maintained. In line with best practice the planning process for SPHE involves an ongoing cycle of review and monitoring of progress in achieving targets. The outcomes of the review and monitoring processes are used to inform future planning. When undertaking the next annual review of SPHE provision or SPHE related policies, it is recommended that in addition to the students and teachers, parents should be involved in the process. This should further enhance communication with parents in relation to SPHE and RSE.
Subject department planning for SPHE is well advanced and there is a high level of commitment, to the planning and teaching of SPHE. Very good progress has been made to date in developing a subject plan based on the school development planning template. The subject plan should be further developed to include more specific information with regard to the desired learning outcomes for each year group, and information on planning for students with special needs, use of information and communication technologies (ICT) and agreed assessment procedures for SPHE. Details regarding SPHE department meetings, the SPHE support service, policy development and programme review could be included in an additional file. Additional planning documents which were made available during the evaluation included the programme of work for senior cycle RSE and associated materials in use by the RE teachers and the Personal Development programme for TY.
In accordance with best practice, common plans of work have been developed for junior cycle SPHE and senior cycle RSE. These common plans of work are based on the syllabus and outline on a week-by-week basis, the topics to be covered under each module, for each year group. The practice of individually tailoring the common plans of work, thus allowing for some differentiation in teaching and learning to meet the needs of individual class groups, is a positive feature. Very good practice was evident in individual plans which made reference to planned learning outcomes, methodologies, resources and modes of assessment and evaluation, teachers are commended for their commitment to such detailed individual planning. SPHE modules are revisited over the three-year cycle, thus ensuring a spiral and developmental approach to the delivery of the programme. Teachers maintain records of work completed to date in order to review progress and inform future planning, in the event that a class might have a change of SPHE teacher.
In the context of ongoing subject planning it is recommended that these plans of work be further developed such that they will be utilised as working documents, which are used to review subject matter covered and aid planning for the future. This planning should incorporate additional and more specific information relating to delivery of the programmes such as reference to expected learning outcomes; choice and use of resources and teaching methodologies and the methods of assessment to be employed in SPHE. These plans should be developed in an integrated manner and include a review section for comments on students’ progress in relation to learning outcomes. This latter provision will be a useful guide for future planning. This process could be implemented on a phased basis. The development of these plans will necessitate further collaboration among the SPHE teachers and provide a rich opportunity for the sharing of good practice, ideas and resources.
Policy documents in SPHE and RSE have recently been reviewed and this work is ongoing. Procedures regarding the use of visiting speakers and outside agencies for SPHE classes should be revised and documented in the policy documents. A pastoral care policy, a crisis response policy, a substance use policy and an anti-bullying policy have also been developed and these policies support the SPHE programme well. The school has shown great care and attention in planning and implementing its SPHE programme, and in monitoring and evaluating its effectiveness. The professional commitment and interest of the teachers involved is recognised.
The SPHE team has access to a television, a video/DVD and overhead projectors for classroom use when required. Access to a computer room for a class can be pre-arranged by the teacher, subject to availability. The school’s SPHE team makes use of a wide variety of educational packs, books videos, and DVDs and these are centrally located in the staff room. Management is supportive of requests made for additional teaching resources for SPHE. As additional resources become available over time, the SPHE team should consider cataloguing all resources, so that teachers, particularly those new to SPHE are aware of available resources.
Lessons were well-structured, clearly focused and presented at a pace appropriate to the needs and abilities of students. Short-term planning for lessons that included the prior preparation of the materials for class was very good. Learning outcomes for the lessons were shared with students at the outset and there was evidence of good continuity with previous lessons. The teachers showed an awareness of the students’ learning styles and adapted the teaching and learning to suit the students’ needs. This good practice is encouraged in all lessons as it provides for a more focused and meaningful learning context.
Teaching and learning were of a high quality in all the SPHE lessons observed and in some cases very good examples of the use of experiential learning were evident. Teacher instruction was clear, accurate and contextualised and frequently supported by the use of a range of relevant visual and tactile stimuli and resources such as students’ handouts, worksheets, charts and the board, to enhance teaching and consolidate learning. This is good practice and is further encouraged as appropriate. Greater use of ICT in SPHE lessons is a stated intention of the teaching team. Management should continue to encourage and support the continued improvement of ICT to enhance teaching and learning in SPHE, as more expertise is developed by teachers over time.
In keeping with best practice for learning and teaching in SPHE, some opportunities were provided for students to acquire knowledge and understanding, balanced with time for reflection on behaviour, attitudes and values. This balance was most successfully attained when the teacher acted as a facilitator and opportunities were provided for students to engage with lesson content in an active way. Some examples of appropriate experiential learning or active learning such as use of brainstorming, reflection, discussion, role-play, walking vote, pair work and group work were evident in the lessons observed. Other teaching strategies that could be incorporated regularly into SPHE lessons are: visualisations, case studies, drama, debating, games, collage work, artwork, problem-solving, narrative expression, project work and co-operative learning. Good efforts were made to relate chosen subject matter to the lives of the students. In all lessons instruction was combined with global and targeted questioning of students to advance lesson material. There were some good examples of higher order questions which challenged students to think at a deeper level and respond accordingly.
A very good blend of experience and expertise is evident in the team of SPHE teachers and they are to be commended for their informal sharing of resources and activities. As part of this collaborative approach and to ensure that all students get the benefit of the good pedagogical practices taking place in individual classrooms, the further sharing of professional expertise, in terms of subject knowledge, methodologies and mechanisms for assessment in SPHE is advocated. Ultimately, the formalisation, documentation, and compilation of discussions that are already ongoing is what is envisaged. Teachers are commended for their efforts made with regard to informal cross-curricular links. The development of more formal cross-curricular links with subjects such as Science and Home Economics, RE and Physical Education (PE) is a stated intention of the teaching team.
A number of lessons from the module on Influences and Decisions provided very good examples of whole-class engagement where students were particularly responsive to the various activities and in some cases students were provided with opportunities to engage in reflection. A variety of lessons from the module on Communication Skills provided very good examples of experiential learning and students clearly demonstrated their enthusiasm for the subject. Such lessons merit particular mention for the level of creativity and originality displayed by the teachers in organising and executing the lessons. The SPHE teachers are informed of students with additional educational needs at the start of the year and have established contact with the learning-support teachers to assist them in supporting students experiencing difficulties. The use of differentiated questioning was also evident in the lessons observed. Overall there was very good use of the teaching and learning strategies recommended for the delivery of SPHE throughout the lessons observed.
The students were very well behaved and were affirmed and encouraged in all their contributions and efforts. Ground rules, have been drawn up by the SPHE classes and these are referred to during lessons, as appropriate. Students were well managed, guided and directed in all learning activities and their work was monitored carefully by teachers in a supportive, encouraging and caring manner. This contributed to a positive and supportive classroom atmosphere that was conducive to effective learning. The quality of the student-teacher relationships and the warm and enthusiastic manner in which the teachers interact with the students have a very positive effect on the quality of learning and reflect well the student-centred ethos permeating the school.
Interaction with students indicated that they had a good understanding and knowledge of material related to the topics being studied and they were very keen to demonstrate what they had learned. There was an appropriate balance between building on the knowledge and skills that they had already acquired, and learning and developing new knowledge and skills. In all classes observed, students demonstrated good teamwork skills and were keen to participate in class activities. There was evidence that students were able to communicate their ideas and knowledge effectively appropriate to their class group and level. A sample of students’ copybooks and folders was reviewed during the evaluation. The work which had been completed on a range of topics was generally of a good standard and presented in a neat and organised manner.
In the majority of cases a stimulating classroom environment was created and enhanced by displays of posters and students’ work completed in SPHE lessons. This should be further developed across the department as it gives students a sense of achievement. Consideration should be given to establishing an SPHE school notice board.
In line with best practice, the need to monitor and assess students’ progress in SPHE is recognised by the teaching team as an important element of a holistic health education programme. It was evident during the evaluation that some planning for the assessment of students’ progress in SPHE is incorporated into the planning of lessons. Although practice varies somewhat among teachers, students’ progress and competence in SPHE is monitored in a variety of ways including in-class questioning, work sheets and various class exercises. On occasion students are given home tasks in order to consolidate learning in the SPHE class. This good practice is encouraged as it can support continuity between lessons and provide an opportunity for the provision of formative feedback to students on their progress in SPHE. It is particularly praiseworthy that in some instances students are encouraged to compose personal reflections on their ongoing work. This technique provides good evidence of students’ learning and should be further developed in all SPHE classes. While there is some evidence of the use of peer-assessment and self-assessment in the lessons observed this should be further developed across the subject department.
It is recommended that the SPHE team further explore the area of assessment in SPHE over time and that planning for the assessment of students’ progress be incorporated with planning for teaching and learning during subject-department meetings. In particular the development of reflection through portfolio work should be explored over time and developed through appropriate training across the team of SPHE teachers. This would consolidate the good work currently evident in 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. In addition, information on assessment for learning is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) website (http://www.ncca.ie/).
Teachers encourage students to record carefully their work from SPHE lessons in folders and copybooks. These are generally stored by teachers and are distributed to students at the beginning of each lesson. Teachers should consider the further use of such records of students’ work and achievement as a tool for assessment. The individual teachers record students’ progress using a diary system, a practice that is commendable as it assists teachers in building a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time. It is commendable that student and teacher reflection and review informs programme planning and informs future teaching and learning.
Communication with parents is maintained through school reports twice a year, information evenings, and annual parent-teacher meetings as appropriate. The student journal is an additional valuable means of communicating with parents.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good whole-school support and resource provision for SPHE resulting in a very supportive school environment for the delivery of the subject.
· An enthusiastic and committed co-ordinator of SPHE is well established and always teaches SPHE.
· Management is committed to supporting the continued training and up-skilling of teachers as appropriate.
· Management and teachers support cross-curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular activities well and this facilitates the SPHE classes particularly well.
· The SPHE programme makes a significant contribution to the pastoral care provision at the school.
· Subject department planning for SPHE is well advanced and there is a high level of commitment to the planning and teaching of SPHE.
· The school has shown great care and attention in planning and implementing its SPHE programme, and in monitoring and evaluating its effectiveness.
· Teaching and learning were of a high quality in all the SPHE lessons observed and in some cases very good examples of the use of experiential learning were evident.
· A very good blend of experience and expertise is evident in the team of SPHE teachers and they are to be commended for their informal sharing of resources and activities.
· Students were well managed, guided and directed in all learning activities and their work was monitored carefully by teachers in a supportive, encouraging and caring manner.
· There was evidence that students were able to communicate their ideas and knowledge effectively appropriate to their class group and level.
· Assessment of students’ learning is undertaken through a range of assessment modes that aim to determine students’ progress and competence.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following recommendations are made:
· In the context of ongoing subject planning it is recommended that this good work be further developed as outlined in the planning and preparation section of the report.
· To ensure that all students get the benefit of good pedagogical practices taking place in individual classrooms, the further sharing of professional expertise, in terms of subject knowledge, methodologies and
mechanisms for assessment in SPHE is advocated.
· To further build on the good work currently taking place, it is recommended that the SPHE team explore and further develop the areas of reflection and assessment in SPHE and in particular the reflective portfolio
over time. Planning for the assessment of students’ progress should be incorporated with planning for teaching and learning during subject-department meetings.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of SPHE at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published March 2009