An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
Dublin Road, Swords, County Dublin
Roll number: 60383I
Date of inspection: 28 November 2007
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 Coláiste Choilm, Swords. 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 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.
Coláiste Choilm, an all-boys Catholic secondary school, was founded by the Christian Brothers in 1967. The current student population is 605 boys. The school reports that Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is well established in the school and that it is regarded as a significant component of the pastoral care structure in Coláiste Choilm.
Currently, all first-year classes are timetabled for one period of SPHE per week. In second year and in third year, SPHE is timetabled concurrently with Physical Education (PE) for a double period each week. This arrangement means that class groups rotate between SPHE and PE and as a result, students have a double period of SPHE each week for half of the school year in both second year and third year. It is acknowledged that this arrangement provides students with the recommended time allocation for the subject over the three years of junior cycle, and the allocation of a double period has potential benefits for class work. However, the disadvantage is that students have no access to SPHE for at least half of the school year in both second year and third year. This practice does not facilitate the spiral and developmental approach that is recommended for the effective delivery of SPHE. It is therefore recommended that management should review the current arrangements for the timetabling of SPHE in junior cycle to ensure that all students have one timetabled class period of the subject per week in accordance with the requirements of Circular M11/03.
It is good practice that teachers are assigned to SPHE by consultation and that, as far as possible, teachers retain the same class group from first year to third year. There is a team of eight SPHE teachers in the school. All members of the team are not assigned to the subject in any one year due to commitments in other curricular areas. In the current school year, three members of the SPHE team have responsibility for the delivery of the subject. Their work is co-ordinated by the guidance counsellor as part of a post holder’s duties. The co-ordinator is an experienced SPHE teacher and, with the exception of the current year, has always been timetabled for the subject. It is evident that the team members value SPHE. There is a very positive and enthusiastic approach to the co-ordination and delivery of the subject in the school. Commendable efforts are made to inform parents of incoming first-year students about SPHE and related activities.
The school reports that good links have been established with the SPHE Support Service. Management is supportive of continuing professional development (CPD) and teachers are facilitated to attend the range of in-service offered by the SPHE Support Service. It is most commendable that all members of the SPHE team have attended the two-day Introductory Training while six members of the team have completed the Continuation Training. Four of the SPHE teachers have availed of the specialised training in Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) and team members have attended a range of other relevant training events. It is noted that all of the training completed by teachers, including the type and date, is documented in the SPHE subject plan. This is excellent practice in terms of keeping records, as well as providing evidence of a very commendable strategic approach to the expansion of teachers’ skills. Training for the team members is complemented by the organisation of a variety of whole-staff training events in areas such as anti-bullying, positive behaviour and the role of class tutors.
Commendably, a number of teachers and senior students are involved in organising a range of activities that supports the work of SPHE in the classroom. These include, for example, the Cool School programme, Fruity Friday, Sports for Success, Mental Health Day and Rainbows. All class groups are timetabled for thirty minutes of pastoral care each week with their class tutor. A tutor handbook has been developed. The pastoral care programme is also co-ordinated by the SPHE co-ordinator; hence, there is close liaison between the two areas.
While there is no dedicated classroom for SPHE, it was evident during the evaluation that the library, which is currently used as a base classroom, is a very suitable venue for SPHE lessons due to the space available and the layout of the furniture. Some SPHE lessons are conducted in the library and consideration should be given to how access to this room could be maximised for this purpose. The room is also used as the storage centre for a wide range of resources for SPHE.
All classrooms have information and communication technology (ICT) equipment and access to broadband. An interactive whiteboard and a data projector are available in the library.
The SPHE teachers meet at least once a term and commendably the meetings are minuted. It is noted that very good progress has been achieved in planning for the subject and a very comprehensive Subject Department Plan for SPHE 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 Coláiste Choilm. The plan includes very clear details regarding the organisation, planning and delivery of the subject in the school.
A considerable section of the plan is the school’s SPHE programme for junior cycle. Commendably, this programme is based on the SPHE curriculum framework. The programme is coherent and it provides a very clear outline of the work to be completed, on a term-by-term basis, for each of the three years of junior cycle. For each year group, the ten modules are divided into clusters of relevant topics. The objectives, learning outcomes and the resources are comprehensively documented for each topic. This approach is commended. Some very good individual planning documents were also presented during the evaluation.
In junior cycle RSE is delivered, as is appropriate, as part of SPHE. In senior cycle, RSE is delivered as part of Religious Education. In addition to the religious education teachers, two of the SPHE teachers who have completed specific training in RSE work with each of the senior cycle class groups in the delivery of RSE. 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. 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.
The school’s SPHE and RSE Policy Statement was updated in 2005 as part of the school development planning process. It is good to note that parents and the board of management had the opportunity to contribute to the policy. 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. Opportunities should also be provided for students’ representatives to be involved in the review of the policy.
In line with good practice, close links have been established between the guidance and SPHE departments in the school. An arrangement is in place whereby the guidance counsellor can access each junior cycle class for two to three periods per year during the timetabled periods of SPHE. This facilitates the delivery of particular elements of the junior cycle guidance programme that have close links to the SPHE programme. This is commended. Links have also been established with the learning support department so that teachers can tailor the class materials for students with special educational needs.
There was much evidence of effective short-term planning, as well as the preparation of resources, for the lessons observed. All lessons had a clear purpose and 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. In keeping with the good practice outlined in the school’s written SPHE programme, it is recommended that teachers should always share the expected learning outcomes of the lessons with the students at the outset. This practice would provide students with a focus for their learning. A return to the learning outcomes at the end of the lesson to check and summarise learning is also recommended.
There were some excellent examples of lessons that were well structured and sequenced, while delivered at a pace that allowed students time and space to engage with, and reflect on, the concepts of the lessons. Some lessons provided evidence of very rich and valuable learning experiences for the students. A lesson from the module on influences and decisions provided a model of best practice in terms of planning, the effective use of methodologies and the engagement of students. This lesson began with a reminder of the previous week’s lesson and the activities of Fruity Friday. The teacher then effectively facilitated an activity that helped students focus on the naming of feelings experienced by people in a variety of situations. Alongside a backdrop of soft relaxing music, students worked individually on a reflective exercise using questions such as “When in a group, who decides how I act?” During this time, the teacher moved sensitively around the classroom. Afterwards, the reading of a poignant story entitled Challenge Day was most successful in engaging all students. This activity provided the stimulus for an active discussion, which was followed by well-managed and well-processed group work. The lesson provided very good evidence of all four elements of the experiential learning cycle. The relaxed but firm and respectful atmosphere, as well as the facilitative style of the teacher, was central to the success of this lesson.
In another lesson on a similar theme, the textbook was used as trigger material to stimulate a brief discussion on influences and choices. Students then completed a personal exercise where they charted the people who influence them. Robert Frost’s The Road not Taken was read aloud and used successfully to engage students in a reflective process on some of the choices that they have made to date. Appropriately, students were invited, if they wished, to share some of their thoughts with the class. Following this, students listened to and were given a copy of the lyrics of the song Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen). The lesson concluded with a well-processed group-work exercise based on the sentiments in the song.
A lesson on healthy eating provided students with good opportunities to examine how they could apply what they had learned during the lesson to their own lifestyle. This lesson provided very good evidence of the ongoing work of the teacher in supporting students to set and achieve individual goals which are related to the content of the SPHE lessons. This approach is commended.
In many of the lessons, it was striking to note that the students were very familiar with and stimulated by the methodologies used. However, in a small number of cases, there was scope for development in this area. In such cases, some attention should be given to ensuring that the methodologies are suitable to the topic being taught and that they provide opportunities for each student in the class to engage in the learning process. When planning for and choosing methodologies, it is recommended that consideration should always be given to how the methodology can be used so that the learning objectives of the lesson are attained. Opportunities to share experience and good practice amongst the team, in relation to the effective use of methodologies, should be considered as part of the team’s planning meetings.
The good practice of taking the roll call was noted in all classes visited. In the main, classroom management was excellent and there were some examples of very good management of students’ learning activities. Students were generally reminded of the ground rules that had been drawn up for SPHE lessons 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 of the lessons observed teaching and learning took place in a secure and supportive atmosphere, characterised by a good rapport between students and their teachers. Effective use was made of student affirmation and students’ contributions were warmly welcomed.
All junior cycle students have a folder to facilitate the filing and secure storage of materials used in SPHE lessons. Encouraging students to collate and store their materials in a systematic manner is good practice and it provides a clear record of students’ work and achievement. It would be preferable if students could retain the same folder for the entire three-year cycle rather than starting afresh each year. This would provide a very comprehensive record of the student’s work in junior cycle SPHE and act as a resource for students when required.
It is good to note that some work has begun on the planning of assessment for SPHE. In the majority of lessons, there was evidence of the use of a variety of assessment modes. Oral questioning was used to check students’ knowledge and understanding and to provide prompts for discussion. Worksheets provided students with good opportunities to reflect on themselves and on the content of the lessons. There were a few good examples where students were encouraged to apply what they had learned to their own lives. Throughout the year, on completion of a module, students are given opportunities to prepare a collage or create a web page and these exercises are stored in their folders.
In order to progress the good work that has already begun on assessment, it is recommended that the SPHE team should further explore the area of assessment and particularly assessment for learning (AfL). Planning for the assessment of students’ progress could then be incorporated with planning for teaching and learning and linked with the learning outcomes of lessons. There is potential for students to use the materials in their SPHE folder as the basis for the development of a portfolio. Student reflection and self-assessment could also inform planning and review of teaching and learning. In developing the area of assessment, some discussion should also take place on how teachers could report on students’ progress in SPHE. 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 website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) at www.ncca.ie
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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 June 2008