An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
Roll number: 72360M
Date of inspection: 8 May 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 Ballinode College, Sligo. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and 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 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.
From the early 1980s until 2003, the Lifeskills programme was a central part of the curriculum in Ballinode College. As a result, the transition from Lifeskills to SPHE was a smooth one for the college when all schools were required to provide SPHE in the junior cycle from 2003.
In keeping with the requirements of Circular Letter M11/03 all junior cycle students are timetabled for one class period of SPHE each week. It is positive to note that the school has also maintained its practice, from the 1980s, of providing SPHE for senior cycle students. Commendably this facilitates the provision of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in senior cycle as required under Circular 0027/2008.
There is excellent provision for SPHE and there is evidence of a belief in the school in the value of the subject for the students. A core team of teachers is involved in the delivery of SPHE. It is commendable that the subject department includes a number of teachers who are experienced in the delivery of SPHE and new members who are invited to join the team from time to time. This is good practice in terms of building capacity to teach the subject. All teachers are assigned to teach SPHE by consultation. The principal is highly committed to the subject; he has been a member of the SPHE team since the outset, and he is currently timetabled for one junior cycle class and one senior cycle class.
There is a collaborative spirit in the subject department and the work is co-ordinated in a very committed manner by one of the team members. The current co-ordinator was appointed in September 2007. The SPHE co-ordinator is also the guidance counsellor in the school and commendably this facilitates close collaboration between the two subject departments.
Management encourages and facilitates continuing professional development (CPD). It is evident that the team makes good use of the services provided by the SPHE Support Service. It is very good practice that all of the teachers who are teaching SPHE have completed the Introductory Training provided by the Support Service. Several members have also completed training in RSE as well as a range of other relevant courses, some of which teachers have completed in their own time.
All classrooms have information and communication technology (ICT) equipment and internet access. Class groups also have access to the computer suite. Other resources such as TV, video, DVD player, digital camera and voice recorders are available.
A notable feature of SPHE in Ballinode College is the effort made to ensure that the subject permeates many aspects of students’ lives, apart from the designated weekly period on the timetable. In particular, the school’s participation in the Healthy Schools Scheme has assisted this process. Involvement in this initiative began in the 2004/05 school year with the aim of “creating a healthy and positive school environment”. In the subsequent years, the themes chosen centred on cultural diversity and inclusion, and communication. The involvement of students, parents, teachers and representatives of the board of management on the committee of the Healthy Schools Scheme ensured a whole-school approach to the work. It also provided opportunities for formal cross-curricular planning between the teachers of SPHE and those in a range of other subjects, including Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE), Home Economics, Art, Computers, Religious Education and Physical Education. The initiative provided students with opportunities to become involved in their school community and in the wider community. During this evaluation, detailed records were provided on the planning and implementation of the many activities undertaken as part of the Healthy Schools Scheme over the last four years. These records together with a discussion with representatives of the organising committee provided very clear evidence that the school’s participation in this initiative gave, and continues to give, practical expression to the work being done in SPHE lessons. This work is deserving of the highest praise.
Other activities that support SPHE in the classroom include Big Brother Big Sister which is a mentoring programme for first years as well as the Creative Engagement Project and the Girls Active programme.
Great efforts are made to keep SPHE in the spotlight. Information on activities and students’ successes in the subject is communicated to all members of the school community and to the wider community. This occurs, for example, through input at staff meetings and parents’ evenings, notice boards in the staff room and in the school lobby, as well as through the use of the weekly Champion in the Classroom column in the local newspaper. A display cabinet in the school lobby is also used to exhibit a range of awards that students have achieved in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities related to SPHE.
There is a very positive and enthusiastic approach to the organisation and planning of SPHE in Ballinode College. The team meets once a term on a formal basis and minutes of meetings provide evidence of a collaborative approach to the work. Given that the team is small in number, there is also ongoing informal contact. Good progress has been made in subject planning. A subject department plan has been developed. While this plan is based on the templates from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), it is good to note that it has been tailored for SPHE in Ballinode College. The plan includes details of the organisation, planning and delivery of the subject in the school. Minutes of team meetings, documentation from in-service, and policies related to SPHE are also included in the subject-planning folder.
The SPHE programme for each of the three years of junior cycle is documented and, appropriately, the programme is based on the approved Junior Cycle SPHE Curriculum Framework. Planning documentation developed at a co-ordinators’ training day has also informed the process. The programme for each year group details the modules and topics to be covered on a week-by-week basis. Some of the topics, including RSE, are well developed, and relevant resources and homework activities are outlined. It is good to note that the co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, including those related to the Healthy Schools Scheme are integrated in the written programme.
The school reports that the programme is reviewed annually to ensure a student-centred approach. When the junior cycle SPHE programme is due for review again, it is recommended that the team members collaborate to outline the learning objectives for each topic. This will then provide a coherent summary and an overview of the SPHE programme for the entire three-year cycle. It will also ensure that key aspects of a particular module are not omitted, especially when a class group might have a change of teacher from one year to the next. In addition, modules can be revisited without becoming repetitive over the three-year cycle, thus ensuring a spiral and developmental approach to the delivery of the SPHE programme. Teachers’ individual planning documents and the records of work completed to date should be very useful in the compilation of this document. A discussion on, and the agreement of learning objectives for topics in each year group will support teachers, particularly those who are new to SPHE, in determining the depth of treatment appropriate for the topics for each year group.
It is noted that good use has been made of ICT in the planning process. This will facilitate the addition of changes made at the review stage.
Individual teachers presented some very good planning documents which had been tailored to meet the needs of particular class groups. In some cases, a complete series of lesson plans had been developed. The lesson plans outlined the aim, the learning outcomes and the structure of each lesson as well as a variety of resources and strategies that were considered suitable for each particular topic. There was evidence of some good reflection on the part of teachers. This work is commended. The recommendation above on the development of learning objectives for each topic over the three-year cycle will facilitate teachers even further in their individual planning.
Planning for SPHE in senior cycle is also well advanced. The senior cycle programme is based around the five areas of learning from the draft curriculum framework that has been developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) for senior cycle SPHE. The Resource Materials for Relationships and Sexuality Education Post-Primary: Senior Cycle informs the planning of the RSE module in senior cycle. A DVD of resource materials to support the implementation of RSE in senior cycle will issue to all schools later in the year and this should act as a further support. As part of the school’s focus on the promotion of health, Mind Out, a school-based mental health programme is delivered as a module to the fifth-year students.
A policy has been developed for RSE as part of the school development planning process. 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. Circular 0027/2008, which was recently issued to schools, will also inform the review of the RSE policy.
The SPHE co-ordinator has collated a wide range of resources for the subject and these are available to all team members. Some of the teachers have also filed a variety of resources, for example, worksheets, case studies and handouts that are particular to individual topics.
There was evidence of very good short-term planning and preparation for the lessons observed. In the planning of one particular lesson, the teacher had clearly identified the learning outcomes in terms of what students should know and be able to do at the end of the lesson. This commendable approach provided a solid framework on which to build the lesson. Consequently, it resulted in a lesson that was well structured and that had a very clear focus.
In the main, the pacing of lessons was good and students were allowed time and space to reflect on the concepts of the lessons. There was some very good evidence of tailoring the content and the methods to the levels and abilities of the students. This is commended. When planning the content of lessons, it is always important to ensure that the students will have enough time to achieve the expected learning outcomes. Subject department meetings provide opportunities to discuss and share ideas with regard to the amount of content that should be included in lessons. This discussion could be linked to the implementation of the recommendation in the previous section of this report regarding the identification of learning objectives for topics in the school’s SPHE programme.
Teachers generally set the scene by reminding students of the previous week’s work and by sharing the topic of the lesson with the students. This is important in SPHE as students only have one class period per week for the subject. Best practice was evident when teachers shared very clearly defined learning outcomes with the students at the beginning of lessons and returned to the learning outcomes at the close. This is worth considering for all lessons as it provides a structure and a focus for students. The use of everyday examples and of linking learning to students’ own experiences was a key feature of a number of lessons. This is commended.
In addition to teacher instruction and the use of the whiteboard, teachers also incorporated trigger material from song lyrics, excerpts from books and newspapers, charts, brainstorming, quizzes and ICT into lessons. In the main, students engaged well with lesson content. Engagement was most successful when lessons were accompanied by well-chosen and well-used active learning methods that provided students with opportunities to participate in their learning. In a lesson from the RSE module, a web site presentation was used effectively to help students understand the stages of development from conception to birth. This lesson was well structured. There was a very good balance between the time devoted to viewing the illustrations and text from the web site, appropriate and timely input from the teacher, and good opportunities for the students to ask questions, reflect, and share their opinions and experiences.
Some opportunities were provided in lessons for students to develop skills and confidence in group work and discussion. Whole-class discussion should be managed so that students who are more confident in speaking out in class do not dominate the discussion. A greater focus on the use of pair work as opposed to larger groups would ensure that all students have the chance to contribute and to engage with the learning activities. It would also help students focus more easily on the task.
The arrangement of the furniture in the classroom is an important consideration for the management of learning activities in SPHE lessons. In particular lessons, and where it is feasible, teachers should consider rearranging the furniture, by removing the tables and arranging the chairs in a circle. This would greatly facilitate many of the participative and experiential methodologies that are recommended for SPHE.
Given the good practices observed and the wealth of experience that there is amongst team members with regard to the use of methodologies, it is recommended that opportunities should be provided for the SPHE teachers to share these practices and experiences as an ongoing part of the SPHE planning meetings. The SPHE Junior Certificate Guidelines for Teachers (pages 21 to 28) provides further information on the methodologies recommended for SPHE. The supplementary notes at the beginning of each chapter, in the sections entitled Teaching this Module (pages 29 to 58 in the same document) also merit attention.
The commendable practice of taking the roll call at the beginning of lessons was noted. Classroom management was good. At the beginning of some lessons teachers reminded students of the ground rules for SPHE class in order to establish a climate of trust and respect. When necessary, reference should also be made to the ground rules during lessons. In all instances, interactions between students and their teachers were positive. The learning atmosphere was pleasant and supportive and there was a sense of a safe space for students. Effective use was made of student affirmation and students’ contributions were warmly welcomed. The positive attitude to SPHE in the school was noticeable in the classrooms visited.
Opportunities were provided for assessment during lessons. This took the form of questioning, reflection, quiz and group work tasks. There were also some good examples where teachers provided students with feedback on their progress as they moved around the classroom. Discussion with the subject department indicated that students are often given home tasks which require that they practise some of the skills from SPHE lessons. This is commended. One such example required students to practise giving compliments to people in their lives. Students are also provided with opportunities to engage in self-assessment.
Parents are kept informed of students’ progress at parent-teacher meetings and at other events such as information meetings and the Highlighting Event for the Healthy Schools Scheme.
It is a positive development that the subject department has begun the process of examining how best to assess and monitor students’ progress in SPHE. There is great potential to link this process with the planning of learning outcomes for topics and lessons. Planning for assessment would then become part of the process of planning for teaching and learning. It is recommended that the teachers of SPHE progress the development of assessment, and in particular that consideration be given to further exploring the principles of assessment for 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 teachers might also access the information on assessment for learning from the NCCA website (www.ncca.ie). The school reports that there are plans to include reporting on students’ progress on the student report cards which are sent home to parents. As part of the planning for assessment, some consideration should be given to what the written comments on SPHE on students’ report cards will be based on.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is excellent provision for SPHE in Ballinode College and there is evidence of a belief in the school in the value of the subject for the students. SPHE is timetabled for all students.
· A core team of teachers, including the principal, is involved in the delivery of the subject.
· The work of the SPHE department is co-ordinated in a very committed manner.
· All of the teachers who are teaching SPHE have completed, at the very minimum, the Introductory Training for SPHE teachers.
· A notable feature of SPHE in the school is the effort made to ensure that the subject permeates many aspects of students’ lives. The school’s participation in the Healthy Schools Scheme has assisted this
· Great efforts are made to keep SPHE in the spotlight in both the school community and in the wider community.
· Good progress has been made in subject planning. A subject department plan has been developed. The SPHE programme for each of the three years of junior cycle details the modules and topics to be covered
on a week by week basis. Planning for SPHE in senior cycle is well advanced and it includes RSE.
· An RSE policy has been developed.
· There was evidence of very good short-term planning and preparation for lessons.
· Some teachers shared very clearly defined learning outcomes with the students at the beginning of lessons.
· Student engagement was most successful when lessons were accompanied by well-chosen and well-used active learning methodologies.
· In all instances, the learning atmosphere was pleasant and supportive. The positive attitude to SPHE in the school was noticeable in the classrooms visited.
· Opportunities were provided for assessment during lessons. It is a positive development that the subject department has begun the process of examining how best to assess and monitor students’ progress in
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· When the SPHE programme is due for review, the team members should collaborate to outline the learning objectives for each topic. This could include some discussion on the amount of content to be included
in lessons so that students can achieve the planned learning objectives.
· The SPHE teachers should use opportunities at subject planning meetings to share the many good practices and the wealth of experience that there is amongst team members with regard to the use of
· The SPHE team should progress the development of assessment, and in particular further explore the principles of assessment for learning.
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 November 2008