An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Oí Connell School
North Richmond St, Dublin 1
Roll number: 60440R
Date of inspection: 7 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in SPHE
This report has been written following a subject inspection in the OíConnell School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in SPHE 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the 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.
The OíConnell School is a voluntary secondary school that subscribes fully to the religious and educational philosophy of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice. The school prides itself on its ethos of care and inclusion.
SPHE is timetabled for one class period per week for all junior-cycle students. However, at the time of the evaluation it was reported that in the case of one third-year class, due to staffing issues, this time was being used to teach Maths. This issue must be addressed by management as soon as it is practicable. To ensure compliance with CL M11/03 it is essential that all designated SPHE time must be used for the sole purpose of providing a junior-cycle curriculum programme that supports the social, personal and health education of students in the school. Such provision is important to ensure that all junior-cycle students have access to SPHE in accordance with the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools and in order to support the holistic education ethos espoused in the charter for the Edmund Rice Schools Trust.
The pastoral care of students is considered important in the school. Established supports such as the year head and form tutor system as well as the work of the established care team are recognised as important elements of the pastoral care system. SPHE is delivered by a team of six teachers. It is commendable that teachers are assigned to SPHE classes by consultation. The teacher is generally the form tutor or a teacher who teaches another subject to the same group. This commendable practice helps to establish a rapport with the class. It was evident during the course of the evaluation that there is a positive attitude amongst the current team of teachers towards SPHE. In recent years there has been a considerable turnover amongst the SPHE teaching team and this had led to a loss of skills and considerable discontinuity in the teaching and learning of SPHE to classes. Some of the current team have received training in some areas relevant to SPHE. Management is very supportive of continuing professional development (CPD) and recognises the importance of building up an established team of fully trained SPHE teachers so that the full benefits of the SPHE programme can be realised. The school needs to adopt a systematic and incremental approach to the expansion of teachersí skills in the areas of SPHE and RSE. In order to build up the collective expertise of the core team, it is recommended that the teachers, in consultation with senior management, identify their particular training needs and establish a systematic and incremental programme of CPD. This programme should facilitate all teachers that are new to the teaching of SPHE to avail of the two-day introductory training and to have the opportunity to proceed though all of the four levels of training offered by the SPHE Support Service. This level of engagement with CPD is necessary to ensure the successful implementation of a high quality SPHE programme. It is advocated that a copy of the information supplied at each in-service course attended is filed in the 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. In the context of future timetabling, management should endeavour to ensure that the teachers retain their class group from first year through to third year. This very good practice would facilitate effective continuity in teaching and learning.
A number of whole-school events such as the Cool School Programme, Healthy Eating Week, International week and the Immersion Project effectively support the social, personal and health development of students. Teachers of SPHE are actively involved in delivering these programmes and supporting the various events. This good work is commended.
Management facilitates planning for SPHE through the provision of formal planning time as part of the calendar of staff meetings. The role of subject co-ordinator was initiated in 2003 and is undertaken on a voluntary basis. It is commendable that the duties attached to this post are clearly defined. In discussions held during the course of the evaluation the co-ordinator demonstrated a strong commitment to the continued development of SPHE in the school. However, the co-ordinator has not taught SPHE since 2003. In recognising the significant challenges involved in co-ordinating a subject that one is not teaching, it is recommended that co-ordination of the subject be reviewed. Good practice would suggest that the subject co-ordinator should be assigned to teach at least one junior-cycle SPHE class. Due to the voluntary nature of this position, consideration should be given to rotating the post of co-ordinator among the teachers of SPHE, once the collective expertise of the team is developed. It is also worth noting that the SPHE Support Service provides valuable support and assistance through the network of cluster meetings for co-ordinators of SPHE.
A number of whole-school policies in the areas of substance use, anti-bullying, inclusion and healthy eating have been developed. It is good practice that parents are kept informed on matters relating to policy development via the school newsletter. It was noted positively that in the case of the substance use policy the role and contribution that SPHE can make in the area of substance use education is clearly identified in the policy documentation. This is very good practice and is encouraged further. However it is important that such information is also noted in the planning documentation for SPHE.
Relationships and sexuality education (RSE) in junior and senior cycle is addressed mainly through Religious Education. This needs to be reviewed in light of the fact that RSE is also one of the modules in junior-cycle SPHE. A collaborative approach between the religious education, science and SPHE departments could be considered. No whole-school policy on RSE was available at the time of the evaluation. To ensure compliance with the requirements of Department Circular 27/08, it is recommended that the board of management, through collaboration with senior management, staff and parents make provision for the development of an updated RSE policy in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Department of Education and Science. These guidelines can be downloaded from the education personnel section of the Department of Education and Science website at www.education.gov.ie.
Subject planning for SPHE is at a very early stage of development. The planning documentation made available during the course of the evaluation included a number of whole-school policies that support the social, personal and health education of students in the OíConnell School, details of relevant cross-curricular links, and junior-cycle RSE implementation. It was noted positively that the minutes from one subject department meeting was stored in the folder. This good practice is encouraged further to facilitate effective continuity between meetings.
It is commendable to note that the process of collaborative planning has begun. Minutes from the last department meeting indicated that part of this meeting focused on developing a list of topics to be covered in each year group. It is laudable that teachers, particularly in first and second year, have begun the process of collaborative planning. This good practice should be extended to ensure that all students in each year group follow an agreed programme of work. The process of collaborative planning also presents opportunities for teachers from each year group to share ideas on suitable resources and teaching strategies.
The collaborative programmes of work that were reviewed during the evaluation need considerable development. At present most programmes of work outline a list of topics to be covered though in some instances these programmes do not outline the SPHE curriculum for the full academic year. On occasion details were provided on the resources and teaching strategies to be deployed to support studentsí learning. This good practice should be developed further. However, in almost all instances the programmes of work reviewed did not demonstrate a balanced or coherent coverage of the various themes and topics within the ten modules of the junior cycle SPHE curriculum framework.
Some very good work was evident in individual teachersí planning documentation. The one-year SPHE programme developed for the group of newcomer students in third year is a commendable initiative. This programme demonstrates a good balance of themes from a wide variety of the modules of the junior cycle SPHE curriculum framework. The number of class periods allocated to each topic is also clarified. This good practice avoids the danger of spending too much time on one module at the expense of another. A student resource booklet has been developed to accompany this programme. This programme of work is a very good example of how the SPHE curriculum framework can be adapted to meet the changing needs of students.
To build on the work already evident, it is strongly recommended that the SPHE team, on a collaborative basis, develop a coherent and balanced three-year programme of work for junior cycle SPHE in the school. The school programme should include information on the topics that will be covered in each module on a term-by-term basis for each year group. The specific amount of time allocated to each module should be clarified. Clear learning outcomes should be identified for each module of work in each year to ensure that there is an incremental approach taken to the development of studentsí knowledge, attitudes and skills from first year through to third year. This will allow certain topics to be revisited thus ensuring that a spiral approach is being adopted to the implementation of the programme whilst also avoiding unnecessary duplication. The programme should also incorporate the range of whole-school activities that take place in the school to support the personal, social and health education of the students and clarify links with other departments such as Guidance and Religious Education. The school programme must be based on the Junior Cycle SPHE programme which has been developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and approved by the Department of Education and Science. In planning the RSE modules for junior and senior cycle, particular attention must be given to the Relationships and Sexuality Education Guidelines for Post-Primary Schools to ensure that the content and resources chosen are age appropriate. When developing the school programme for SPHE particular attention should focus on the use of appropriate methodologies and resources to support studentsí learning. Some very good work was done in the past in relation to common programmes of work from first year to third year. The work of the co-ordinator in putting this work together is commended. However, at the time of the evaluation these programmes were not in use. The system used in the past would provide a good working template for the future development of a school programme. The exemplar programmes in the Guidelines for Teachers of SPHE (pp 7-20) may also prove useful. In order to assist planning for the next academic year, it is strongly recommended that the school invite the SPHE Support Service to facilitate a school-based CPD input. This visit should address issues such as programme development and policy development as well as providing guidelines on the use of appropriate resources. Contact can be made with the local regional development officer through the SPHE Support Service website at www.sphe.ie
Once the three-year programme has been developed all teachers of SPHE should use the programme in planning for their class group whilst allowing for some degree of flexibility to meet the specific class needs. The school programme should be reviewed on an annual basis. To assist in a high quality review, it is recommended that all teachers keep records of the work covered to date and include notes on the resources and teaching approaches that were particularly effective. This good practice also assists effective continuity in teaching and learning where changes are made to class teachers.
There is a good range of additional resources available to support the teaching and learning of SPHE. Management is supportive of the provision of additional resources. It is praiseworthy that these resources are readily accessible to each member of the SPHE team and that the co-ordinator actively facilitates the further sharing of resources. Consideration should be given to compiling a catalogue of available resources. This could be included in each teacherís resource folder for individual planning purposes. It is evident that efforts are taken to ensure that the range of resources available maximises the inclusion of all students in SPHE lessons. This is good practice. It is worth noting that the Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities that was recently produced by the NCCA includes resources for SPHE.
There was evidence of good short-term planning for the lessons observed. Very good practice was evident in instances where the teacherís individual planning documentation for the lesson indicated key learning objectives together with the planned teaching methodologies and resources chosen for the lesson. This very good practice ensured that the lesson content was appropriately paced and pitched at a level that was commensurate with studentsí needs.
In all of the lessons observed additional resource material was prepared in advance to support studentsí learning. This is good practice. Some effective use of information and communication technology (ICT) was noted in the preparation of these resources. However when choosing support material for lessons, it is essential that the content of the material chosen is suitable to the age group being taught and that the age limit specified on films is strictly adhered to. Section 9 of the School Handbook produced by the SPHE Support Service is a useful reference section for suitable resource material. †
All of the lessons observed had a clear focus. Each lesson began by sharing the topic of the lesson with the students. In some instances this strategy was developed further by sharing key learning outcomes with the students. This information was framed in terms of what the students themselves would be doing in the lessons and why. This very good practice is encouraged further to consolidate studentsí learning and facilitate opportunities for student reflection and self-evaluation. This is a key principle underpinning the aims of the junior cycle SPHE curriculum framework. As recommended in the teaching of SPHE, some good integration of lesson content with studentsí prior learning was apparent in all the lessons observed. This is very good practice, especially in a SPHE context where lessons are delivered in one period per week.
A range of teaching strategies were observed during the course of the evaluation. Good practice was evident in lessons where the range of teaching strategies chosen resulted in lessons that facilitated an appropriate balance between knowledge acquisition and concept formation as well as the development of positive attitudes and skills among the students. This is in keeping with the rationale underpinning the teaching and learning of the SPHE curriculum framework. Questioning strategies were used effectively to stimulate studentsí interest and to check students understanding of the topic under discussion. Very good practice was evident in instances where probing questions were used to encourage students to analyse critically the information under discussion.
Experiential learning that facilitated the active engagement of students in the four key stages of experiencing, processing, generalising and applying lesson content was an integral component of some of the lessons observed. This good practice is encouraged as the structured experiential method of learning is recognised as the most appropriate approach to SPHE lessons. However the pacing of a lesson through each of these four stages needs to be considered carefully to maximise studentsí learning. In the lesson observed the experience stage was accommodated through the use of film, excerpts from interviews as well as brainstorming and simulation exercises. Teacher-led discussion proved effective in allowing students to process and generalise the information. In all of the lessons observed good use was made of the classroom board to summarise the key points of information from the discussions. It is laudable that students recorded this information in their notebooks as it is good practice that students file all of the information from their SPHE lessons.
Worksheets were used to good effect to facilitate student reflection. It is laudable that some of the worksheets chosen facilitated different styles of student learning through the use of quizzes or activities that required students to analyse information on graphs. In all instances student feedback was taken from each activity and the key points of information summarised clearly to reinforce studentsí learning. In order to build on the good practices already evident, it is recommended that the range of teaching strategies deployed in SPHE lessons be extended to include opportunities for students to participate in group work and pair work as an alternative to teacher-led activities.
In all of the lessons observed the teaching and learning took place in a supportive atmosphere where a warm student-teacher rapport was evident. Studentsí contributions to lessons were welcomed and affirmed. Where necessary, the teacher circulated to provide individual help to students in a supportive manner. This is good practice. Classroom management was generally good though on occasion some minor incidences of low-level disruption were noted. To enhance the management of planned learning activities in SPHE lessons, it is recommended that consideration be given to the establishment of an agreed set of ground rules with each SPHE class. These rules should make explicit the roles, rights and responsibilities of all involved in the learning process in SPHE class. This is a useful strategy to establish a climate of trust and respect in SPHE lessons. Once agreed these rules should be included in all students folders and ideally be visibly displayed on the walls of all SPHE classrooms. †
Students generally engaged well with the lessons observed. Interaction with and observation of studentsí responses to questions indicated that they had a good understanding of the lesson topic being discussed. Observation of studentsí folders indicated some good work in relation to the range of activities completed for the topics covered. It was noted positively that students are provided with opportunities to reflect on lesson content. However, observation of studentsí folders raised some concerns. In most instances the volume of work evident in the folders observed did not indicate a level of progression that was commensurate with the current stage of the academic year. This needs to be addressed in the context of future planning for SPHE.
A system has been recently introduced to enable students to store and file material from their SPHE lessons. These folders are stored securely by the class teachers and are distributed to students at the beginning of each lesson. This good practice ensures that studentís work, which may be of a personal nature, is not mislaid. It should become the established practice that students retain this folder from first year through to third year as due to the spiral nature of the SHPE curriculum they may need to reflect back on the work covered in previous years. This practice will also ensure that students and their parents have a tangible record of the progress and achievement in the subject.
It was noted positively that strategies were incorporated into lessons that provided opportunities for assessing studentsí progress through the use of questioning strategies and worksheet activities. There was some good practice evident with regard to the monitoring of studentsí work. Useful teacher comments affirmed work well done. The provision of constructive feedback facilitates students in making sound judgements, which is one aim of the SPHE curriculum framework. To enhance this good work it is recommended that the SHPE team further explore the area of assessment in SPHE. Information and support on assessment is available in the Guidelines for Teachers (pp 59-68).
Mechanisms that facilitate the provision of feedback to parents on studentsí progress in SPHE need to be considered by school management in association with the SPHE team. The provision of a SPHE notice board in a prominent location in the school together with the inclusion of SPHE as part of the regular school reports should be considered. Such strategies would prove useful in increasing the profile of the subject among the school community.
Programme evaluation is a key component of the assessment of a schoolís SPHE programme. Mechanisms that enable students and parents to input into a review of the programme need to be considered. For example, students could be provided with an opportunity to review a completed module of work. The outcome of this review should inform further planning.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ SPHE is timetabled for all junior-cycle students in accordance with CL M11/03.
∑ A number of whole-school events support studentsí social and personal development during the school year.
∑ Management facilitates planning for SPHE through the provision of formal planning time as part of the calendar of staff meetings.
∑ A number of whole-school policies which support the personal and social development of students are in place. Parents are kept informed of matters relating to policy development through the school newsletter.
∑ There is a positive attitude amongst the teaching team towards the further development of SPHE provision in the school. The role of the co-ordinator is clearly defined.
∑ Resource materials are readily accessible to all teachers of SPHE. Management is very supportive of the provision of additional resources.
∑ In all of the lessons observed the teaching and learning took place in a supportive atmosphere where a good rapport was evident.†
∑ A laudable system has recently been developed for students to store and file material from their SPHE lessons.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ All dedicated SPHE time should be used solely for the purpose of delivering a coherent and balanced junior-cycle SPHE curriculum programme.
∑ The SPHE team, in consultation with senior management, should identify particular training needs and establish a systematic and incremental CPD programme for SPHE.
∑ The co-ordination of SPHE should be reviewed.
∑ A RSE policy should be developed in line with the guidelines produced by the Department of Education and Science.
∑ A three-year programme of work that demonstrates the coherent and balanced coverage of the ten modules of the SPHE curriculum framework should be developed. The school should invite the local regional development officer of the SPHE Support Service to facilitate a school-based CPD input to support the initial stages of this planning process.
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 September 2008