An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection


Social, Personal and Health Education



St Finian’s Community College

Swords, County Dublin

Roll number: 70120F


Date of inspection: 9 November 2007

Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008




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 St Finians Community College. 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 three 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 SPHE teachers. 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


In St Finian’s Community College, 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. However, currently first year students are withdrawn ten minutes early from lessons directly before lunch to facilitate their access to canteen facilities. While it is recognised that this system has been put in place as a support to students, it does impact very significantly on instruction time in SPHE for first years. Therefore, it is recommended that this system is reviewed for the 2008/9 school year.


In the current school year, a team of eight teachers delivers the SPHE programme. Consequently, all teachers have experience teaching SPHE to more than one class group. This commitment to the development of a small core group of SPHE teachers is laudable and senior management is commended in this regard. There is a spirit of enthusiasm and a positive attitude amongst the team members and it is clear that they are committed to the rationale for SPHE as outlined in the syllabus documents. Contributing to the success of the current programme in the school is the fact that all of those teaching the subject were assigned following consultation; management is commended in this regard. As far as possible, teachers retain classes for the duration of the three-year cycle.


Co-ordination of SPHE been allocated to one teacher. Management is very supportive of this department and teachers are facilitated to attend the range of in-service training offered by the SPHE Support Service. All SPHE teachers are involved in the delivery of relationships and sexuality education (RSE). This is best practice as it ensures continuity in the overall delivery of the SPHE programme.


Resources for SPHE are very good and include a wide variety of materials. These are very clearly displayed on shelving housed in the library and available for all SPHE teachers. While training on information and communication technology (ICT) has been provided by one member of staff to the SPHE teachers its integration into lessons varies. ICT can be a useful teaching tool and its more extensive usage, where possible, is recommended,


In addition to the core curricular work that is ongoing in lessons, many supports are available for students and these include a breakfast club, a harmony room for students in need of “time out”, canteen, homework club, various other clubs and games and the annual awards evening. The school places very strong emphasis on rewarding positive behaviour. For example, parents are contacted by phone or postcard by management to celebrate the positive behaviour of their son or daughter. This good practice is clearly very supportive of students.


Planning and preparation


School development planning is ongoing with many policies in place. These include SPHE, substance use and anti-bullying policies. An RSE policy has also been developed and is currently under review. Good progress has been made in planning for the subject and links have been established between the SPHE team and the guidance counsellor. Currently, management facilitates meetings of subject departments during class time. Since this provision impacts on instruction time for students, alternative systems for facilitating subject department planning should be put in place at the first available opportunity.


A subject department plan has been developed and this document outlines the organisational details in relation to the subject and includes lists of modules to be covered in first, second and third year. All teachers are clearly adhering to this agreed plan. It is laudable that the SPHE syllabus is used as a framework in planning the programme, whilst allowing flexibility to meet the needs of the current cohort of students. To enhance this good work, it is recommended that a statement of expected learning outcomes including the skills which students should attain be included in all planning documentation. This would enhance the current developmental and spiral approach to the delivery of SPHE. Outside speakers are brought in to complement the work that is ongoing in the classroom. A summary of their presentations is given to the SPHE teachers in advance and all talks are evaluated informally by the teachers before. It is recommended that these systems should be formalised so as to ensure transparency of information for teachers, parents and students.


A plan for relationship and sexuality education (RSE) has been devised and commendably this is shared with parents prior to the delivery of this module. Cross-curricular planning is ongoing as collaboration occurs with the science and religion departments to assist with the delivery of RSE. This is laudable.


Evidence provided during the evaluation indicates that teachers have adapted the programme of work outlined in the plan by producing resources tailored to meet the needs of their students. These included cards, PowerPoint presentations, CDs, worksheets, and handouts. It is commendable that this range of resources and support materials for all aspects of the subject have been devised by teachers. As time goes on and further resources are added, it would be worthwhile cataloguing the resources so that all members, and particularly new team members, know what is available.


Teaching and learning


Eight lessons were visited during the course of the evaluation including a senior cycle lesson on RSE. Short term planning for all lessons was very good. This resulted in lessons that 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, commendably, shared the learning objectives of the lesson with the students and at the end of some lessons 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 and provides a focus and structure for students.


Many of the teaching and learning strategies observed are in keeping with those recommended for the delivery of SPHE. The range of methodologies provided students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning. This approach to teaching and learning is commended and is in line with some of the aims of SPHE. In addition to teacher instruction and the use of information and communication technology (ICT), the whiteboard, charts, handouts and worksheets, teaching and learning was supported by strategies such as brainstorming, case studies, pair work and group work, peer-tutoring, questioning, individual work, discussion and reflection. The use of such an extensive variety of methodologies is very good practice and, is commended.


Student engagement was evident in all lessons observed as the teacher successfully acted as facilitator. Students were given clear instructions and lessons were accompanied by well planned and effectively used methodologies. Opportunities to share good practice amongst the team, in relation to the use of methodologies and resources, could be considered as part of the team’s subject planning meetings.


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 was good and there were some examples of excellent management of students’ learning activities. In some cases, teachers reminded students of the ground rules, which had been agreed for the SPHE class, in order to establish a climate of trust and respect; this is commended. These rules were clearly displayed in some classes. It is recommended that they should be displayed for all lessons.


In a minority of cases, there was some low level disruption where small groups of students engaged in incessant talk that was unrelated to the activities of the lesson. This was partly due to the inappropriate placing of students during group work activities. In the interests of the majority of students, it is essential that careful consideration be given to the placement of students in group work activities. Some sharing of practice and experience in this area between team members might be useful.




Formal assessments are held for all year groups at Christmas and for first, second and fifth year students at summer. Mock certificate examinations are held for third and sixth year students in February. Reports are issued following all formal assessments and, in addition, at Easter. Currently the school does not report to parents on students’ progress in SPHE as part of the regular student progress reports. As SPHE plays a significant role in the school curriculum, it is important that this be addressed at the first available opportunity. Teachers are available to meet parents at parent-teacher meetings. The school journal is used as an additional mode of communication and contains a weekly report sheet for parents to sign as the need arises.


In all classes visited, it was evident that a system has been developed for students to file and store personal materials from the SPHE lessons. This generally took the form of a folder or a copybook, or a combination of these. The materials are generally stored securely in the classroom and are distributed to students at the beginning of each lesson. This practice is highly commended and it ensures that students and their parents have a tangible record of work and achievement for the year while providing a tool for assessment. However, in some cases, there was no evidence to suggest that this work was being assessed. Regular monitoring of this work is very important as it indicates to students the value of maintaining their portfolios to the highest level possible. Therefore, it is recommended that all teachers would ensure that there is regular monitoring of student work.


The SPHE department has recently introduced a system whereby students are required to evaluate their progress at the end of each module of work. Individual evaluation sheets have been devised by teachers which are tailored to meet the needs of individual class groups. This is very good practice and worthy of high praise. Other modes of assessment used by teachers include questioning, discussion and peer mentoring.


Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:


·         Timetabling of SPHE is in line with syllabus guidelines

·         A small core team is responsible for the delivery of the SPHE programme.

·         The SPHE team is clearly committed to the rationale for SPHE and is enthusiastic and positive.

·         Management is very supportive of this department and teachers are facilitated to attend the range of in-service training offered by the SPHE Support Service.

·         The SPHE syllabus has been used as a framework in planning the programme. RSE is included in the plan and this programme is shared with parents prior to its delivery.

·         A wide range of methodologies are used for the teaching and learning of SPHE.

·         In all classes, a very supportive learning atmosphere was evident.

·         A wide bank of resources has been developed by teachers.



As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:


·         The system of releasing first year students from class ten minutes early for lunch must be reviewed as it impacts significantly on time available for SPHE.

·         More extensive use of ICT in SPHE lessons is recommended.

·         It is recommended that comments on students’ progress in SPHE be included in all school reports issued 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.