An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Social, Personal and Health Education
St Josephs College
Lucan County Dublin
Roll number: 60263V
Date of inspection: 5 November 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 Joseph’s College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in SPHE (including Relationships and Sexuality Education) 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, deputy principal and teachers of SPHE. 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.
St Joseph’s College is an all-girls voluntary secondary school. The values espoused in the school’s mission statement are evident from the importance placed on providing for the social, personal and health education needs of students as part of the holistic education programme offered.
There is a very good level of provision for SPHE. All junior cycle classes are timetabled for one class period per week in accordance with the requirements of the Department of Education and Science circular letter M11/03. Transition year is compulsory for all students. In the current academic year SPHE has been introduced into the Transition Year (TY) programme. This initiative builds on a Lifeskills module that was provided in previous years. It is commendable that Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is taught as an integral component of SPHE. RSE is provided to Leaving Certificate students through Religious Education and guest speakers organised by the guidance department.
A significant number of whole-school events support the implementation of the SPHE programme. Whole-school activities such as Friendship Week, study skills seminars, intercultural activities and the facilitation of a Rainbows programme, all effectively support the social and personal education of students. The school ensures that the SPHE programme is sufficiently adaptable to meet the changing needs of its student cohort. The recent commendable initiative in the development of a healthy eating and nutrition policy effectively addressed a recognised need in the area of healthy school lunches and snacks. Some very effective links have also been established with local community organisations to support the social and personal development of students in the school.
There is a positive attitude and supportive school environment for the delivery of SPHE. It is commendable that all teachers are assigned to SPHE classes through consultation. It is established practice that all teachers new to SPHE attend the introductory in-service training provided by the SPHE support service. This is very good practice. SPHE is facilitated by a team of thirteen teachers whose work is enthusiastically coordinated by a subject coordinator. The SPHE team displays a high level of commitment and enthusiasm for the on-going development of the SPHE programme in the school. SPHE teachers generally do not teach their SPHE class for any other subject. Therefore, as SPHE is offered for one class period per week, it is recommended, where feasible, that teachers retain their class group for the duration of the junior cycle SPHE programme. This facilitates optimal learning in SPHE.
A systematic approach is being adopted to planning for teachers’ participation in continuous professional development courses (CPD). There has been a very good level of engagement with a range of CPD courses in the area of SPHE. The professional qualifications of individual members, together with the range of additional training undertaken have resulted in a commendable level of shared expertise among the team. This has impacted very positively on the quality of teaching and learning evident in SPHE lessons. The SPHE team has identified the further development of the RSE and TY programmes as priorities in subject planning. Therefore, the next phase of CPD should place a particular focus on the further engagement of team members with the Continuation Training and senior cycle RSE in-service. It is advocated that a copy of the information supplied at each in-service course attended be filed in a subject planning folder. This would ensure that the information is available to each member of the team and can be referred to as the need arises.
The coordination of SPHE forms part of a special-duties post of responsibility. The co-ordinator, who recently took up the position, actively facilitates the sharing of resources and the process of collaborative planning in an effective manner. At present the co-ordinator has not been assigned to teach SPHE. In the context of future timetabling, it is recommended that the co-ordinator be assigned to teach at least one SPHE class in order to remain in contact with the subject.
Resources are allocated on the basis of teacher requisition. Management is very supportive of any requests made to update the resources for SPHE. A very good system for accessing shared resources has being established in the school library. As this system evolves resource material should be filed under the headings of junior and senior cycle resources to facilitate ease of access to age-appropriate resources for lessons.
Whole-school policies in the areas of anti-bullying, substance use, healthy eating, and RSE are in place to support the social, personal and health education of students. A commendable level of consultation with all the school partners informs policy formation and review in St Joseph’s College. When policies related to SPHE are being reviewed some of the SPHE teachers sit on the relevant sub-committee. This very good practice ensures that the SPHE programme proactively addresses students’ needs and that curricular initiatives complement and inform whole-school policy development and review. The good SPHE initiatives currently being implemented in the school should be incorporated into the substance use and anti-bullying polices at the next review stage.
The RSE policy is due for review. The current policy outlines a clear philosophy, rationale and aims for the RSE programme in St Joseph’s College. It is recommended that the Department guidelines on developing a RSE policy be used to inform the review of the school policy. These guidelines and template can be downloaded from the education personnel section of the Department of Education and Science website at www.education.gov.ie.
Many collegial practices underpin the work of the SPHE team and very good progress is evident in the development of subject planning folders. Collaborative subject planning is facilitated by management through the provision of subject department meetings for the teachers of SPHE once per term. An agenda is planned and minutes are kept for each planning meeting. This good practice facilitates effective continuity between meetings. In addition SPHE teachers in each year group meet informally to review progress and in many cases collaboratively draft lesson plans and source suitable support materials. This very good practice shares the workload of planning lessons and provides a forum to share best practice among the teaching team. The administrative and curricular roles of the co-ordinator are clearly defined. It was noted positively that the duties were decided in consultation with senior management, and are kept under review. This is good practice.
Very good progress has been made in the development of a collaborative junior cycle SPHE programme of work. The plan is generated using ICT which makes it easy to amend. This plan, which is clearly based on the SPHE curriculum framework produced by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), demonstrates a very good balance of coverage across the ten modules that underpin the framework. All SPHE teachers engage in very high quality individual planning, preparation and review of lessons. Individual teachers have compiled SPHE planning folders that are based on the collaborative plan but demonstrate sufficient flexibility to address the specific needs of individual classes. Some exceptionally good practice was evident where students were invited to submit a list of questions or issues that they hoped to see addressed in their SPHE lessons. This information then informed subsequent individual lesson plans. All teachers keep very good records of the work completed with classes. A culture of self-evaluation is prevalent among the teaching team. Many teachers complete a personal reflection after each lesson to note the teaching strategies and resources that worked well. This is very good practice.
The SPHE framework requires that a spiral and coherent approach is taken to the teaching of SPHE. This means that various modules, topics and skills are revisited from first year through to third year. Therefore, on a phased basis, it is recommended that the collaborative programme of work should be further developed to include learning outcomes for each topic to indicate the knowledge, understanding and skills that students should achieve from first year through to third year. The actual number of classes devoted to each topic, useful resources and teaching strategies should also be specified. This level of detail will enhance the very good work already evident by further promoting coherent and incremental coverage of the SPHE curriculum framework. It will also assist teachers in planning learning outcomes for TY that demonstrate progression from junior cycle SPHE. Much of this work is currently being carried out by individual teachers as evidenced by their planning folders. In order to assist the next stage of development of the collaborative plan, it is recommended that the teaching team use the collaborative plan as a working document. Each teacher should record the actual time taken to complete topics, the resources and teaching strategies that proved particularly useful and any adjustments made to the sequence of topics. This information will be very useful in informing the on-going monitoring and advancement of programme plans.
The SPHE plan for TY is at an early stage of development. A good selection of themes and topics has already been incorporated into the plan and teachers are commended for the efforts made to address the topics in a manner that demonstrates progression from the junior cycle. There is scope to add some additional themes. The senior cycle SPHE draft curriculum framework and the module descriptors for Leaving Certificate Applied Social Education would be useful in informing the further advancement of the plan.
Some very good work is evident in the planning of junior cycle and senior cycle RSE. It is evident that a proactive approach is taken to planning for this area. It is commendable that clear procedures are in place regarding the use of visiting speakers. As the RSE policy is about to be reviewed, this is an opportune time to evaluate the RSE lessons delivered in junior and senior cycle. It is recommended that a sub-committee of staff involved in the delivery of RSE review the programme. Particular attention should focus on the sequence and time of year that topics are covered as well as the specific ground rules for such lessons. The current senior cycle programme should be re-examined to ensure that the programme is sufficiently broad to address all the themes and topics suggested in the NCCA guidelines. Subsequent subject department meetings should focus on the development of lesson plans for each year group. These plans could be centrally stored and used by the teaching team. Information regarding the specific delivery of the RSE themes could then be included in the updated RSE policy. The upcoming CPD in the area of senior cycle RSE that some staff plan to attend should prove beneficial in progressing this area.
A good range of resources is available to teachers of SPHE. The collaboration with and support of the guidance department in supplying SPHE teachers with additional resources are particularly noteworthy. There are many instances where individual teachers have developed or collated additional resource material for lessons. Consideration could be given to storing a copy of such resources in the teachers’ section of the library to enhance the range of shared resources available.
Very good quality teaching and learning was evident in all of the lessons observed during the course of the evaluation. The quality of advance planning and preparation for individual lessons was very good. It was noted positively that a number of lessons centred on friendship in preparation for the upcoming friendship week that is planned as part of the anti-bullying policy in the school. This is a very good example of how the SPHE curriculum can effectively support whole-school policy. Individual teachers provided written outlines of their planned lesson to indicate the topic, methodologies and resources to be used. This meticulous attention to detail resulted in lessons that were clearly focused and appropriately paced. To enhance this practice and to inform the advancement of the collaborative SPHE programme of work, it is recommended that learning outcomes for each topic also be incorporated into lesson plans. These outcomes should be differentiated and provide information on the knowledge, skills and attitudes that students will acquire. This will assist the team in integrating further assessment strategies into SPHE lessons.
Lesson content was well structured. In some of the lessons observed the learning outcomes, in terms of what the students would learn and why, were shared at the start, and referred to throughout the lesson. This strategy proved very effective in setting the scene for the topic and engaging students in the lesson content. This very good practice is encouraged in all lessons. This strategy also has the potential to facilitate additional opportunities for student reflection and self-evaluation which are key principles underpinning the aims of the SPHE curriculum framework.
In the lessons observed some very good links were made with students’ prior learning to optimise the learning potential of lessons. Questioning strategies and students’ reflection on work completed in previous lessons proved successful in this regard. This is very good practice in the context of a SPHE lesson delivered in one class period per week. In the case of one class visited, the lesson was planned to follow on from a visit from a guest speaker who had made a presentation on sexually transmitted infections. This very good planning practice allowed students to clarify and discuss issues that arose in the presentation in a supportive manner as their class teacher had already established a rapport with the group. It is particularly commendable that students evaluated the effectiveness of the presentation. This is a valuable part of the learning process and is indicative of the principles underpinning Assessment for Learning in SPHE.
In all of the lessons observed teachers displayed a high level of confidence and competence in the facilitation of SPHE lessons. It is laudable that the range of teaching strategies chosen maintained a commendable balance between knowledge acquisition and concept formation, skills development, and the promotion of positive attitudes and behaviours among students. This very good practice is in keeping with the rationale underpinning SPHE. Ice breaker activities such as games and worksheets were used to very good effect to stimulate students’ interest in the topics and to encourage students to think more deeply about the concepts under discussion.
There was some very good use of ICT in the development of support materials to optimise learning. One particularly effective use of ICT occurred in a lesson on body image and beauty. Downloaded video clips from a recent advertising campaign were shown to students using the class laptop and data projector. The videos clips chosen effectively engaged students in a deeper discussion of the topic and successfully challenged their pre-conceptions. Such practices in the choice of suitable resource materials are highly commended.
In a number of lessons students were provided with opportunities to develop skills and confidence in group work and pair work. Students displayed a commendable ability to work together and were confident communicators during the plenary sessions. In all instances, these activities were well managed with the task clearly explained and roles defined. Best practice in processing student responses was observed in instances where student feedback was taken in plenary session and where key points of information were noted on the classroom board and recorded in student copybooks. This enhanced learning by accommodating a range of learning styles such as visual and kinaesthetic.
Planned activities were very well managed. Students’ contributions and efforts were affirmed with some very good use of questioning to assess individual levels of learning and to challenge students to think more deeply about the topic. The warm rapport and climate of trust that has been established between students and their SPHE teacher was evidenced by the willingness displayed among students to share personal experiences. Students made very good progress in the lessons observed. Learning was enhanced where time was allocated to summarise lesson content and where an agenda was set for subsequent lessons.
Interaction with students during the course of the evaluation indicated that they were challenged and motivated in SPHE lessons. Most lessons took place in teacher-based rooms and good attention was given to displaying the ground rules for positive student behaviour in SPHE lessons. It is commendable that there is a dedicated SPHE student notice board located in a prominent position in the school. Consideration could also be given to developing a SPHE corner in the base classrooms.
Observation of students’ folders and copybooks indicated good progress. It is laudable that the folders and copybooks are stored securely by the class teachers. Due to the integrated and holistic nature of SPHE, students may need to reflect back on work covered in previous years. Therefore, it is recommended that students retain the same folder from first year through to third year rather than the current practice of storing the material for one year only.
Formative assessment of student achievement and progress in SPHE was an integral component of the lessons observed. Questioning strategies, teacher monitoring of classroom activities, plenary sessions from group work and affirmation of student responses served to assess individual levels of learning and provide feedback on the tasks assigned. Observation of students’ folders indicated some good practices where students engaged in worksheet activities that assessed their knowledge, understanding and application of the topics. Opportunities are also provided to facilitate self-assessment. These practices are particularly valuable assessment for learning tools, as they take place at the site and time of learning and provide opportunities for individual student feedback. In some instances, it was evident that students complete an occasional home task for SPHE. This worthwhile practice facilitates continuity between lessons and provides opportunities for the class teacher to monitor the work and provide constructive feedback to individual students. The provision of such feedback can assist students in making sound judgements, which is another aim of the SPHE curriculum framework. It is particularly laudable that students complete end of topic review forms. This information should feed into the on-going review of the SPHE programme in the school.
It is the desire of the SPHE team to develop student assessment in SPHE further. As a first step, it is recommended that individual teachers incorporate assessment strategies that are linked to the learning outcomes into their lesson planning. Such strategies should also note mechanisms to provide student feedback. Successful initiatives should be noted and shared at team meetings. This information will then form the basis of an agreed basket of assessment tools that could be included in the programme of work. The Teacher Guidelines for SPHE pp 60-68 provide useful information in this area. As the school reports to parents on students’ progress in SPHE at parent-teacher meetings and through school reports, the development of a student portfolio as the basis of the feedback provided could also be considered.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is a positive attitude and supportive school environment for the implementation of the SPHE programme.
· There is a very good level of provision for SPHE.
· A high level of interest and enthusiasm for the SPHE programme is evident among the team. A systematic approach is taken to planning for teachers’ participation in CPD.
· The SPHE co-ordinator actively facilitates the sharing of resources and the process of collaborative planning in an effective manner.
· A number of whole-school policies are in place to support the social, personal and health education of students. A commendable level of consultation informs policy development.
· Very good progress is evident in the development of subject planning folders. The junior cycle programme of work demonstrates a very good balance across the ten modules.
· All SPHE teachers engage in very high quality individual planning, preparation and review of lessons.
· In all the lessons observed teachers displayed a high level of confidence and competence in the facilitation of SPHE lessons.
· There was some very good use of ICT in the development of support materials to optimise students’ learning.
· The warm rapport and climate of trust that has been established between students and their SPHE teacher was evidenced by the willingness displayed among students to share and reflect on personal experiences.
· Formative assessment of student achievement and progress in SPHE was an integral component of the lessons observed.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Where feasible, teachers should retain their class group for the duration of the junior cycle SPHE programme.
· The junior cycle collaborative programme of work should be developed to include learning outcomes for each topic that indicate the knowledge, understanding and skills that students should achieve from first year through to third year.
· A sub-committee of staff involved in the delivery of RSE should review the programme currently offered to ensure that there is a broad and balanced coverage of all the themes and topics included in the NCCA guidelines.
· Learning outcomes should be incorporated into the lesson plans. These outcomes should be clearly differentiated and provide information on the knowledge, skills and attitudes that students will acquire in the lesson.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of SPHE and with the senior management team at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published March 2009