An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Social, Personal
and Health Education
Mount Carmel Secondary School
Kings Inn St, Dublin 1
Roll number: 60853T
Date of inspection: 21 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 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 Mount Carmel Secondary School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Social Personal and Health Education (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 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.
Mount Carmel Secondary School is an all-girls school under the patronage of the Religious Sisters of Charity. The values and ethos of Mary Aikenhead is evident from the importance that the school places on the personal and social development of its students.
There is a very supportive school climate for SPHE. The subject benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support. All junior-cycle classes are timetabled for one class of SPHE per week in accordance with the Department of Education and Science circular letter M11/03. Management makes a conscious effort to avoid, where possible, timetabling SPHE lessons on the last class period of the school day. In addition large class groups are split into two smaller groups. These practices are a commendable means of maximising the learning opportunities in SPHE. The provision of senior-cycle Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) has been formalised since the beginning of this academic year. This programme will be provided through the non-examinable Religious Education classes. It is commendable that a RSE policy has been developed in consultation with staff, parents and the board of management. It is worth noting that advice and support on developing and implementing a RSE policy has recently been made available on the education personnel section of the Department of Education and Science website at www.education.gov.ie. Consideration should be given to reviewing the policy and the associated information letters in light of this advice. A number of other relevant whole-school policies which support the personal and social development of students are in place. A commendable level of consultation informs the drafting of whole-school policies. It is particularly laudable that sections of some of these policies are included in the studentsí journal.
Parents are kept well informed on matters relating to the provision of SPHE in the school. It is particularly laudable that plans are in place to translate the letters that give details of the RSE programme to parents in a deliberate effort to maximise the inclusion of all parents in the school community.
It is commendable that the social and personal development programme has the flexibility to meet the changing needs of students. A number of whole-school activities such as the Rainbows programme and events organised in the areas of healthy eating, road safety, physical activity, anti-bullying and substance use support the work of SPHE. It is good practice that clear procedures in relation to the use of visiting speakers have been documented in the SPHE policy. Productive links have been made with the local community. The local committee attached to the Home-School-Community Liaison scheme has produced a series of information leaflets for parents on topics that may impinge on studentsí learning, such as internet safety, anti-bullying behaviour and healthy eating.
SPHE is delivered by a core team of five teachers. All members of the team, with the exception of the co-ordinator have joined the team this year, though some have had past experience in teaching the subject. It is commendable that the teachers were assigned to the team by consultation or through expressions of interest in teaching the subject. There is a sense of a very committed and enthusiastic teaching team. Every effort is being made to ensure that the teachers retain their class group from first year through to third year. This very good practice assists in the establishment of a safe and secure learning environment, which is necessary to facilitate optimal learning in SPHE. 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 continual professional development (CPD) programme for SPHE. 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.
The role of SPHE co-ordinator was initiated in 2005 and is undertaken on a voluntary basis by a teacher who has considerable experience in teaching SPHE. A professional, proactive and committed approach is being adopted to the co-ordination of the subject. As the team gains experience, consideration could be given to rotating this role in order to share the workload and to allow each member of the team assume a leadership role in the continued development of SPHE in the school.† Management facilitates formal planning time once per term. It is commendable that an agenda is planned and that minutes are kept for each planning meeting. These good practices facilitate effective continuity between meetings. Resources are allocated on the basis of teacher requisition. Management is very supportive of any requests made to update the resources and equipment for SPHE. The school is currently setting up a school library through engagement with the Junior Certificate School Library Project. It is laudable that a section providing resources for SPHE will be included.
A proactive and collegial approach is evident in the organisation of the SPHE subject department. Subject department planning is at an advanced stage of development. A comprehensive whole-school policy for SPHE has been ratified by the board of management. It is commendable, that in addition to detailing Junior Certificate SPHE provision, the policy outlines SPHE provision from a whole-school context. It is laudable that the work of the School Completion Programme and Home-School-Community Liaison scheme, as well as the contribution of the Guidance Programme is documented. This good practice facilitates the provision of a cohesive and holistic personal and social development programme for all students in the school. It is praiseworthy that arrangements are in place for the systematic review of this policy.
A very comprehensive collaborative programme of work has been developed for Junior Certificate SPHE. This work was primarily led by the SPHE co-ordinator, with the assistance of another member of the team and is being implemented since the beginning of this academic year. From reviewing the planned learning outcomes of each module, it is evident that the planned programme demonstrates a coherent and incremental coverage of the SPHE curriculum framework. This work is highly commended. All SPHE teachers engage in very high quality individual planning, preparation and review of lessons. Each teacher has a resource folder for their assigned class. Written plans for each lesson detailing the aims, methodologies, resources, assessment opportunities and structure of each lesson are also included in the folders. This is excellent practice. Of particular note is the fact that individual teachers complete a personal reflection of each class. It is recommended that this work be used to compile a list of suitable resources and appropriate methodologies that could be included in the collaborative programme of work. This information would also provide opportunities to share experiences of good practice in the teaching and learning of SPHE.
There is a good range of additional resources available to support the teaching and learning of SPHE. It is praiseworthy that these resources are readily accessible, catalogued and disseminated to each member of the SPHE team. The school has participated in a pilot project to develop resources for SPHE lessons. This work will be of benefit to other schools and participation in this work is commended.
SPHE syllabus documentation stresses the importance of linking with other subjects in planning the programme. This work has been initiated in a very effective manner by the SPHE co-ordinator. The general teaching staff was asked to complete a very short survey that allowed for the systematic identification of cross-curricular links with the Junior Certificate SPHE and the senior-cycle RSE programmes. This initial research could be used to generate a number of planned cross-curricular projects on a phased basis.†
The quality of short-term planning for all the lessons observed was very good. This ensured that all the lessons had a clear focus, and in almost all instances, were paced and pitched at a level that was appropriate to ensure that high quality student learning outcomes were achieved. In each class visited the individual teacher provided a high quality lesson plan. In a number of instances the plans detailed the assessment opportunities within the lesson. This is very good practice, as assessment of learning should be an integral part of SPHE lessons.
The commendable practice of sharing the learning outcomes with the students was noted in all the lessons observed. This strategy proved very effective in setting the scene for each lesson and assisting in the development of a logical lesson structure. In one lesson this strategy was developed further. The teacher, after listing some of the learning outcomes on the board, asked the students to suggest what other information should be known about the topic. This strategy proved highly effective in engaging students in the lesson content and creating a sense of shared ownership of the lesson material as they contributed to the development of some of the learning outcomes for the lesson.
In all of the lessons observed teaching and learning took place in a secure and supportive atmosphere. All classroom interactions were characterised by a very good rapport. Issues that arose in the course of class discussion were dealt with in a very sensitive manner and it was clear that positive relationships exist between the students and their teacher. As students completed worksheets or group tasks the teacher circulated around the classroom to provide individual help to students in a sensitive and supportive manner. This is very good practice.
A very good range of appropriate teaching and learning strategies was used in the lessons observed. Each lesson had a clear focus and relevant links were established with previous learning. This is very good practice, particularly in the context of SPHE, where lessons are delivered in one period per week. A wide range of resource materials, which was prepared in advance, was used effectively to introduce new material and to facilitate studentsí understanding and application of new material. Of particular note was the fact that a deliberate effort was made to incorporate resources that facilitated the different styles of student learning. In one lesson for example, excellent use was made of illustrations of cartoon characters to engage students and enable them to differentiate clearly between the different types of communication. In all instances teachersí explanations of new concepts was very clear and particularly good attention was given to assisting students in developing the vocabulary to discuss the topic of the lesson.
In keeping with the aims of the SPHE syllabus, the lessons provided students with opportunities for reflection and discussion and responsible decision making was fostered. Active learning was facilitated through the effective use of group work, pair work, role play and worksheet activities. In all instances these activities were effectively managed and students displayed a commendable ability to work well on their own and in collaboration with their peers. Experiential learning was another key strategy used in the lessons observed. One particularly good example of this occurred in a lesson on the topic of stress. Students, after discussing the various factors that cause stress and some techniques that are useful in coping with stress, were provided with an opportunity to take part in a meditation exercise. After the exercise students discussed how they found the meditation and how they might use it in the future. This is laudable practice incorporating the four key stages of experiential learning as students had the opportunity to experience, reflect on, generalise and apply the information gathered in the lesson.
It is commendable that assessment for studentsí learning was deliberately planned for in a number of lessons observed. This very good practice is encouraged as an integral part of the teaching and learning in SPHE. In some lessons worksheet activities provided opportunities for students to reflect on and personalise the work covered in the lesson. The worksheets were particularly well designed to reinforce knowledge and develop positive attitudes and values in the topics under discussion. In a number of other instances students were asked to identity one point of new information that they had learned in the lesson. These commendable practices are particularly valuable as assessment for learning strategies. They take place at the site and time of learning and opportunities are provided for individual student feedback. In some instances, home tasks were assigned. This good practice is encouraged further as a means of supporting continuity between lessons and providing an opportunity for the provision of constructive feedback to students on their progress in SPHE.
Studentsí achievements in SPHE are recognised and acknowledged and feedback on studentsí progress is given to parents. The SPHE department has developed a school-based certification system that recognises studentsí achievement and progress in SPHE. It is particularly laudable that the quality of studentsí participation in SPHE is one of the assessment criteria used to award the school-based SPHE certificates. In addition the school reports to parents on studentsí progress in SPHE as part of the regular school reporting system and at parent-teacher meetings. This is very good practice.
The SPHE team recognises that reporting on studentsí progress on the quality of work completed in SPHE is a challenging task. As evidence of the proactive approach taken to the teaching and learning of SPHE, the teaching team recently introduced a scrapbook where students store all of their work from SPHE. It is intended that this will be used to inform the comments made at parent teacher meetings and on the report form. As this scrapbook contains almost all of the work completed in lessons, some of which may be of a confidential nature, it is recommended that this assessment practice be reviewed. Consideration should be given to the introduction of a student portfolio system as discussed in the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment SPHE Guidelines for Teachers pp66-68. The monitoring of this portfolio could provide the basis for the awarding of the school certificates and comments made at parent-teacher meetings and on the school reports.
Some other beneficial assessment practices are used to monitor studentsí achievement in SPHE. It was noted positively that some of the learning targets for SPHE will be used to profile students who are taking the Junior Certificate School Programme. Opportunities are also provided for students to reflect on their own progress and complete end-of-topic review forms which feed into the on-going review of the SPHE programme. This is very good practice and should be extended where necessary.
It is laudable that an agreed system has been developed for students to store and file material from their SPHE lessons and that the scrapbooks are stored securely by the class teachers. In some instances students also keep a copybook. Consideration could be given to discontinuing the copybook and filing everything in the scrapbook, which is then stored securely by the class teacher.
Teachers maintain very comprehensive records of studentsí attendance and of work completed. All teachers reflect on their own practice in individual lessons and this information is stored systematically by all members of the team. This excellent practice will feed into the continued development of the SPHE programme in the school.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ There is a very supportive school climate for SPHE and RSE. The subject benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support, particularly in terms of timetabling.
∑ A number of whole-school policies which support the personal and social development of students are in place. A commendable level of consultation informs the drafting of whole-school policies.
∑ Parents are kept well informed on matters relating to the provision of SPHE in the school. Plans are in place to translate the letters that give details of the RSE programme in a deliberate effort to maximise the inclusion of all parents in the school community.
∑ A core team of teachers of SPHE has been established. A high level of enthusiasm and commitment for the teaching of SPHE is evident among the team.
∑ The subject department is very well organised and co-ordinated in a very committed, professional and enthusiastic manner. †
∑ Subject department planning is at an advanced stage of development. A comprehensive policy for SPHE and an agreed programme of work are in place to support the programme.
∑ All SPHE teachers engage in high quality individual planning, preparation and review of lessons. Very good records of work completed and reflections of their own practice are stored systematically by all members of the team.
∑ In all of the lessons observed the teaching and learning took place in a secure and supportive atmosphere where a very good rapport was evident. †The high level of active and experiential learning observed is highly commended.
∑ Studentsí achievements in SPHE are recognised and acknowledged and feedback on studentsí progress is given to parents.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ The SPHE team, in consultation with senior management, should identify particular training needs and establish a systematic and incremental CPD programme for SPHE.
∑ The review forms completed by individual teachers should be used to compile a list of suitable resources and appropriate methodologies that could be included in the collaborative programme of work.
∑ Consideration should be given to the introduction of a student portfolio system as discussed in the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment SPHE Guidelines for Teachers.
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.