An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna

Department of Education and Skills


Subject Inspection of Social Personal and Health Education




Jesus & Mary College

Goatstown Road, Dublin 14

Roll number: 60891E


Date of inspection: 17 September 2009





Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations





Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Social, Personal and Health Education



Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in the Jesus & Mary College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), 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 one day 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 subject co-ordinator. 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.


Subject provision and whole school support


SPHE is appropriately provided as a core subject on the curriculum for all junior cycle students in accordance with Circular Letter M11/03. It is highly commendable that the school continues to support studentsí personal development by providing a dedicated period once per week for a fifteen-week module for all Transition Year (TY) students, and one period of SPHE per week for all fifth-year students. In addition, all students are provided with one dedicated period per week for pastoral care. RSE is delivered as part of the SPHE programme for all students, with the exception of sixth-year students who are provided with dedicated time for RSE as part of their Religious Education (RE) programme. The time dedicated to RSE at senior cycle is in line with the Department of Education and Skills Guidelines for Teachers.


At present seven teachers are deployed to teach the subject in the school, with four new members to the SPHE department this year. Management is commended for recognising the need to expand the team of teachers with the interest, knowledge and skills to deliver the SPHE and RSE programmes in the school. This positive development will help to expand the core team for SPHE and bring a broader range of expertise to the subject department. In most cases, teachers have been consulted and invited to teach the subject prior to their deployment. As the subject can often involve dealing with sensitive and emotive issues, careful consideration should be given to ensuring that all teachers are comfortable with the subject matter and have a good understanding of the various pedagogical approaches to facilitate studentsí learning in SPHE. Efforts to ensure that the SPHE teachers also teach another subject to the same class group are commendable, as this extends the level of contact between students and their teachers. Furthermore, the practice of bringing a group from first year to third year is also commendable as it allows for trusting relationships to be developed between students and their teachers, which are central to the implementation of a successful SPHE programme. A supportive system is in place to facilitate the induction of new teachers to the subject, which is good practice as this ensures consistency in the delivery of the syllabus.


There has been significant engagement with the SPHE support service to enhance the professional competencies of teachers assigned to the subject. Teachers are encouraged and facilitated by management, where possible, to attend professional development activities. As there has been a significant change in the teachers assigned to the subject this year, it has not been possible for all of the teachers new to SPHE to avail of the inservice programme prior to their deployment. It is recommended that those teachers, who are teaching the subject but have not yet had an opportunity to attend the introductory in-service, be accommodated as soon as is appropriate for the school. Consideration should also be given to involving teachers, who may be interested in teaching SPHE at a future stage, in the in-service programme. In this way, the school will have strategically increased the number of teachers with the professional competencies to deliver SPHE and RSE and to support the whole-school approach to studentsí personal development and wellbeing.†


There is a supportive whole-school climate for SPHE and the caring ethos of the school is reflected through policies developed and practices observed. A consultative approach is taken to developing, ratifying, implementing and reviewing school policies and involves all relevant partners, which is in keeping with best practice. All relevant policies have been developed to support the subject including substance use, tackling bullying, dealing with critical incidents and RSE. The recently revised RSE policy is a comprehensive document and provides clear guidance to all members of the school community regarding their roles, the content and the delivery of the programme in keeping with the ethos of the school. It is particularly commendable that the positive contribution of students from a diversity of ethnic backgrounds is positively acknowledged in the RSE policy. Management provided confirmation that the Child Protection Guidelines have been appropriately adopted.


A number of whole-school co-curricular and extracurricular initiatives such as an anti-bullying week and a healthy-eating week take place during the year, along with a number of additional events that promote health and wellbeing. The efforts of those involved in organising these events are highly commendable, as they make a significant positive contribution to both the atmosphere in the school and to support and consolidate studentsí learning and wellbeing. A dedicated notice board is available to display relevant notices and posters.


The size and layout of the classrooms were sufficient to allow for good student and teacher mobility, which is necessary to facilitate the active and participatory learning strategies promoted in SPHE. A requisition system is in place for the purchase of resources and materials to support teaching and learning and it was reported that management is very supportive of all requests. There is good access to television, video and DVD players and the school has invested significantly in the provision of information and communication technology (ICT) in the classrooms. †



Planning and preparation


Planning for SPHE and the co-ordination of the subject are of a high quality and very well executed in this school. Subject department planning is facilitated by senior management and formal planning meetings take place approximately once per term. The position of subject co-ordinator is clearly defined and whilst the role may be rotated at agreed intervals, there is a recognised need for stability at this time given the increase in the number of teachers new to the subject. The present subject co-ordinator has extensive experience of teaching the subject, has participated in a significant number of in-service courses and actively facilitates the sharing of resources and good practice. Minutes of subject department meetings indicate that significant progress has been made in the development of the subject plan and that a good range of relevant issues are discussed including the organisation of programmes of work, addressing the needs of particular groups and arrangements for visiting speakers. There was good evidence that teachers engage in reflection regarding the aspects of the programme that worked well and those that need to be addressed, which is commendable. For example, a further module on the skills of effective communication was recently introduced for TY students, as it was generally felt that many senior students would benefit socially from this module. Designing the programme of work to respond to the needs of students in this way is very good practice. Departmental planning facilitates the induction of new teachers to the subject and the work of the co-ordinator in this regard is highly commended.


The SPHE plan outlines all aspects related to the organisation and delivery of the subject and programmes of work in the school. This is a well-presented and comprehensive document. The planned programme of work for junior cycle follows the recommended framework in the SPHE Guidelines for Teachers. Teachers follow a common programme and all ten modules are covered with each year group. This coherent and progressive approach ensures that studentsí learning experiences are built upon over the course of the junior cycle. Extensive planning folders have been developed for each year group outlining the topics that will be covered within each module, along with the accompanying resources. Planning booklets for each term have been developed for the first-year programme, with all the necessary materials and resources to deliver the programme, including sample lesson plans. It is intended to extend this planning practice to all year groups. In addition, all topics and the suggested resources and materials to support teaching and learning are organised chronologically in the planning folders. This level of detailed planning and preparation is exemplary. To support this good work, it is recommended that the programmes of work outlined in the various subject planning documents be consolidated and refined into a short, single document that identifies the progression of each module over the three-year programme. This will help to provide a quick reference framework to the topics, the desired learning outcomes, teaching and learning strategies, resources and modes of assessment for each module and topic. Responsibility for this task should be distributed amongst members of the SPHE department and be completed in a common format over an agreed period of time. †


The senior cycle programme of work follows the topics outlined in the draft senior cycle SPHE syllabus. It is highly commendable and progressive of the SPHE department to develop their senior cycle programme of work based on the proposed syllabus. This will position the school very favourably to deliver the new syllabus when it is formally introduced at senior cycle. The topics covered include mental health, gender studies, substance use, RSE and physical activity and nutrition, all of which are very relevant to the lives of students at this present time. The use of the recently launched Talking Relationships Understanding Sexuality Teaching (TRUST) resource materials as part of the senior cycle RSE programme is also highly commendable. †


Planning takes cognisance of studentsí additional educational needs and of the needs of those students from culturally diverse backgrounds. Some good cross-curricular links have also been identified in the subject plan, which is commendable. The further expansion and documentation of these links to include the themes and skills common to each subject area is recommended as these help to deepen studentsí knowledge and understanding of the focused topics. The identification of the range of possible teaching and learning methods in the subject planning documents is commended. Consideration should be given as part of the planning process to sharing the varied expertise and experiences of the SPHE teaching team. For example, some teachers may find role play, group work or using ICT particularly effective for some topics and may share the various strategies for organising and facilitating these experiential and interactive approaches to learning. Similarly, some teachers may be very knowledgeable about some of the content areas and may wish to share their expertise with the group. In this way, teachers will help to expand each otherís knowledge and skills to deliver all aspects of the syllabus.


The schoolís procedures in relation to visiting speakers and the use of external agencies are appropriately included and identified in the SPHE plan. It is particularly commendable that the extensive links that have been established with reputable agencies cover the broad spectrum of issues dealt with in SPHE, including mental health, physical health and social-service providers. Covering the relevant topic with students prior to the arrival of the visitor ensures that they are better placed to engage in an informed debate on relevant issues.


The SPHE co-ordinator ensures that parents receive a letter notifying them of the topics to be covered in their daughtersí RSE programme and inviting them to contact the SPHE or RSE teachers should they wish to discuss any aspect of the content or delivery of this material. This is highly commendable as a means of informing parents of the philosophy of the subject and the content covered. In addition, this practice may help to provide a platform for parents to discuss the topics more fully with their daughters, which will further enhance studentsí knowledge and understanding. The co-ordinated approach to the delivery of RSE to all students at the same time of the year ensures that there is a whole-school awareness of this important aspect of studentsí growth and maturation. The planned inclusion of the SPHE and RSE programme and policies on the reconstructed website is also a very valuable way of engaging and informing parents.


The SPHE syllabus, Guidelines for Teachers and the SPHE School Handbook are readily accessible to teachers. The compilation, cataloguing and storage of the extensive range of resources and materials are exemplary. Resources are centrally stored and this good practice ensures that all members of the SPHE team have easy access to the materials in preparation for their lessons.


It is commendable that some use is made of the schoolís ICT facilities in the preparation of class materials and in subject planning. It is recommended that planning be extended to include the use of ICT as a tool to support teaching and learning. This may be particularly effective when addressing some of the modules such as personal safety, especially internet safety, in addition to presenting images, short video clips and other electronic stimulus material. †



Teaching and learning


There was a good standard of teaching and learning in all of the SPHE lessons observed. All of the SPHE teachers observed engaged in effective individual planning and preparation for their lessons, which included detailed lesson plans and the prior preparation of class materials. This resulted in lessons that had a clear purpose, were well structured and delivered at an appropriate pace and level for each group of students. The topics covered in the lessons visited were establishing an inclusive and positive learning environment by working things out through SPHE, self-reflection and goal-setting. These topics were appropriate to the time of year, the age of the students and the priorities for their year group. Prior to the commencement of some lessons, students reorganised the classroom furniture to facilitate greater mobility and social interaction. Good examples included organising desks to facilitate groups of four or five students to face each other, whilst another class formed a circle with their chairs so that students could see each other. This approach is welcomed and all teachers should ensure that the seating arrangements for SPHE lessons are suitable to facilitate the interactive and discursive nature of the learning experiences.†


Good practice was observed in most lessons when teachers shared the intended learning outcomes with students at the outset and outlined the content and tasks to be completed as part of the learning process. In most cases, teachers used questioning to engage students in this process and to provide opportunities for students to clarify the purpose and relevance of the material. This effective strategy, which is in keeping with the principles of assessment for learning, ensured that students understood what they were expected to know and be able to do by the end of the lesson. This strategy should be extended to all lessons. In many instances, teachers revised previous learning and facilitated students to establish a connection with the new class material. Making a link with the content of previous lessons is important in SPHE to establish continuity of learning, especially when there is only one contact period per week. In one lesson, students had prepared posters as a home task to reflect how they would like to interact with each other in SPHE. Each student displayed her work on the classroom wall and identified how responsible behaviour can contribute to the establishment of a supportive and positive learning environment. This task led seamlessly to the next reflective task that focused on understanding how you view yourself and others. Similarly, in another lesson, the teacher guided students through the values that they wished to depict in their classroom, such as supporting one another, being inclusive and respectful of each other. This is highly effective pedagogy that contributes to studentsí learning within SPHE and across the entire curriculum.


Lessons progressed in a well-structured, logical manner through a range of effective and appropriate strategies. These included individual reflection, pair work, small-group work, questioning, brainstorming and completion of worksheets. These interactive methods are in keeping with the discursive nature of the subject and help to develop a range of social and cognitive skills. Feedback from individuals or groups was processed effectively by teachers who wrote student responses on the board and encouraged students to take note of the key points. Best practice was observed where teachers assumed a facilitative role throughout the lessons. In this way, teachers provided students with the opportunities to take responsibility for their own learning, to actively participate in the planned activities and to learn from their peers. In many cases, the class tasks were structured to guide students through the focused topic and the use of this experiential approach is highly commended. It is recommended that all teachers consider the use of this approach to learning in all SPHE lessons. Details of the experiential learning cycle and teaching SPHE are available in the Teacher Guidelines and in the SPHE School Handbook.


Questioning was skilfully used and in many cases, students were challenged to justify their responses, which is good practice in developing higher-order, cognitive skills. In all cases, a variety of materials and resources was available to support learning and to ensure that studentsí engagement with the set tasks were focused and purposeful.


There was a friendly and caring atmosphere in all lessons visited and a positive rapport had been developed between students and their teachers. Students were excellently behaved and respectful of each other, the class environment and their teachers. Classrooms visited were well presented. In one classroom, student-generated SPHE-related material was displayed on the walls, which is commendable as it provides positive affirmation of studentsí efforts and engagement with the subject. This practice should be extended where possible.


All lessons concluded by recapitulating and summarising the main points and outlining the topics to be covered in the next lesson, which is in keeping with good practice.





It is commendable that the SPHE department have deliberated on the assessment process for SPHE. A number of formative and summative approaches are outlined in the subject plan and the development of an ďassessment tool-kitĒ is a stated priority for the SPHE department. A range of assessment strategies may be used by teachers to determine studentsí engagement and progress in SPHE. These include self-assessment through reflective tasks and end-of-module review, the completion of work sheets and responses to specific tasks or project work. In addition, teachers may observe studentsí engagement in pair work, group work and class discussions. Home tasks are given occasionally, which help to consolidate learning and promote greater reflection on the focused topic.† Whilst the area of assessment has been given considerable attention, it is important that there is a systematic and agreed approach to the implementation of the various strategies. †The expansion and development of the assessment process, including the identified assessment-for-learning strategies is recommended. Any assessment process should be efficient in its implementation and informative in terms of the outcomes for students, teachers and parents.


Students are encouraged to have a folder for SPHE, which serve as a useful method of storing class material. Communication with parents is maintained through school reports twice a year, information evenings, and annual parent-teacher meetings as appropriate. School reports include formative comments to affirm studentsí engagement in SPHE.



Summary of main findings and recommendations


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:


A post-evaluation meeting was held with the co-ordinator 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 May 2010