An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of
Social, Personal and Health Education
Grange Community College
Donaghmede, Dublin 13
Roll number: 70020B
Date of inspection: 7 March 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 Grange Community College, Donaghmede. 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 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 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.
Grange Community College is a co-educational school that currently caters for 118 students. The school participates in the School Completion Programme (SCP) as part of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) action plan. SPHE benefits from good subject provision and a very supportive school environment. Each junior cycle class is timetabled in line with the requirements of Circular Letter M11/03. In the current school year, a core team of three teachers, which includes the guidance counsellor, delivers the SPHE programme, thus ensuring close collaboration between these two departments. There is a spirit of enthusiasm and a positive attitude amongst the team members and it is clear that they are committed to the philosophy underpinning SPHE. All of those teaching the subject were assigned to their roles following consultation. This has impacted positively on SPHE and is a contributing factor to the success of the programme. This is commended. As far as possible, teachers retain classes for the duration of the three-year cycle.
The three teachers of SPHE have been assigned their own classrooms and all SPHE lessons are delivered in these assigned rooms, one of which is a science laboratory. Consideration might now be given to reviewing the use of a science laboratory for SPHE as the layout of this room precludes the easy movement of students for activities. Teachers have been facilitated to attend in-service training offered by the SPHE Support Service. Management is supportive of teachers in this regard. Consequently, most SPHE teachers have attended the Introductory Training course. It is recommended that management should ensure that all teachers avail of this course. One teacher has attended the Substance Use course. This commitment to continuing professional development by teachers and management is commended and further encouraged.
A relationships and sexuality education (RSE) course is delivered in junior cycle by the SPHE teachers. In senior cycle, the RSE programme is designed and delivered by the religion department and, as is appropriate, it is tailored to meet the students’ needs. In addition, external input is provided by speakers from groups including Response, Cura, Bodywise and Aids Alliance. Information is sent to parents in advance of all RSE programmes. This is good practice.
The resources available for SPHE are good and include a wide variety of teaching materials. These are stored in the guidance counsellor’s office which is accessible to the SPHE teachers. There is no pre-determined fixed budget for SPHE but all resources needed are acquired through requisition. Information and communication technology (ICT) is used by the department for student project work and the development of worksheets and handouts.
In addition to the core curricular work that is ongoing in lessons, many supports are available for students. These include the Cool Schools Programme, Rainbows, Homework Club, book grants, a ‘buddy’ system for first year students, the student council and a home-school-community liaison officer (HSCL) who is shared with two local primary schools.
School development planning is ongoing in Grange Community College. The school has substance use and anti-bullying policies in place. The school plans to develop the SPHE and RSE policies in 2008/09. As a matter of priority it is highly recommended that the board and senior management ensure that the RSE policy is progressed. While training regarding the Child Protection Guidelines has been provided in the past, newer members of staff have not benefited from this. It is recommended that annual refresher courses be given to all staff; this would ensure that that new members are automatically provided for in this regard.
Co-ordination of SPHE is shared by all three members of the SPHE department, a system that is reported by teachers to be working very well. The commitment and dedication of all members was very evident and, as such, this is commended. Formal subject planning occurs at set times throughout the year and time has been allocated for the SPHE department to meet on such occasions. Minutes of all meetings are kept. The SPHE teachers also meet regularly at non-class contact time for subject planning purposes.
A comprehensive plan has been developed and this includes the organisational details of the SPHE department. This plan indicates that there is a spiral and developmental approach in planning the SPHE programmes in accordance with syllabus guidelines. It is clear that all teachers follow this plan meticulously. All teachers maintain a record of work covered and in some cases, this includes methodologies and resources used for particular lessons. This good practice could now be extended to all. A list of all available resources was also included in the plan. This is commended. It is important that all planning regarding RSE in senior cycle should be included in the SPHE department plan and this is now recommended.
Individual planning for lessons was good and this included the integration of varied teaching and learning strategies. Handouts and worksheets were developed and specifically tailored for individual classes. In most cases, these were very suitable. It is important that all such handouts are designed appropriately to allow students to navigate the content readily.
All lessons had a clear purpose and were generally well structured. In all cases, teachers set the lesson in context by reminding students of the previous week’s work. They then shared the learning objectives of the lesson with the students and at the end of the lesson returned to the objectives to summarise learning before closing with a reference to what would be covered in the subsequent lesson. This is excellent practice as it provides a focus and structure for students.
Commendably, many of the teaching and learning strategies observed were in keeping with those recommended for the delivery of SPHE. The range of methodologies provided students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning. Teaching and learning was supported by teacher instruction, information and communications technology (ICT), the whiteboard, handouts and worksheets, as well as strategies such as brainstorming, pair work and group work, questioning, individual work, discussion and reflection.
Student engagement was at its best when lessons were not teacher-led, when the teacher acted as facilitator and students were actively involved. This was evident in a lesson observed on peer pressure. The objective of the lesson was to heighten the students’ awareness of this topic. This lesson was introduced very expertly through a game. A small number of volunteers were positioned and were instructed to move in response to statements read by the teacher. In time, the remaining students in the class identified peer pressure as the reason why some students moved. This was a very effective introduction to the content of the lesson. The remainder of this lesson integrated varied strategies, which included group work, role-play and individual work. The level of enthusiasm for all activities was high.
In all of the lessons observed, there was a very supportive learning atmosphere and good relationships had been established between students and their teachers. Effective use was made of student affirmation and students’ contributions were warmly welcomed. Classroom management in general was good and there were some examples of very skilful management of students’ learning activities. In one case, links were made to the ground rules which were clearly displayed in the classroom. This is excellent as it reminds students of the importance of such rules while providing teachers with an essential tool for the management of students.
Attendance is recorded by all teachers and these files were made available during the evaluation. In all classes visited systems have been developed for students to organise and store personal materials from the SPHE lessons. The materials are generally stored securely in the classroom and are distributed to students at the beginning of each lesson. This is a very good approach as it ensures that students and their parents have a concrete record of work and achievement for the year and it also facilitates assessment. Students’ work is systematically monitored by all teachers. This is commended.
Oral questioning is used in lessons to check understanding and to allow students express opinions. It is important that questions are spread amongst all students so that the less confident student is provided with the opportunity to contribute to the lesson. This is recommended. Commendably, the level of students’ responses was good and indicated a clear understanding by students of the content of the lesson.
Currently, the school does not report to parents on students’ progress in SPHE as part of the regular student progress report. It is recommended that the school makes every effort to ensure that SPHE appears on report cards. It is essential that the SPHE department agrees on assessment criteria prior to the introduction of SPHE on school reports. Parent-teacher meetings provide opportunities for parents to discuss progress in SPHE with teachers.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· SPHE benefits from good subject provision and a very supportive school environment.
· All teachers have been assigned following consultation.
· Teachers have been facilitated to attend in-service training offered by the SPHE support service.
· Resources for SPHE are good and include a variety of materials.
· In addition to the core curricular work, many supports are in place for students.
· School development planning is ongoing with anti-bullying and substance use policies in place.
· A comprehensive plan has been developed for SPHE.
· Individual planning for the lessons observed was good.
· All lessons had a clear purpose and were generally well structured. The range of methodologies provided students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning.
· Systems have been developed for students to organise and store personal materials.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· All teachers should now avail of the Introductory Training course provided by the SPHE Support Service.
· The board and senior management should ensure that the RSE policy is progressed as a matter of priority.
· Questions should be spread amongst all students.
· Consideration should be given to including a record of students’ progress in SPHE on the report cards that issue to parents.
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.