An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Social, Personal and Health Education
Newpark Comprehensive School
Newtown Park Avenue, Blackrock, County Dublin
Roll number: 81001I
Date of inspection: 16 September 2009
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 Newpark Comprehensive School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in 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 two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers and examined students’ work. 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 deputy principal. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
The facilitation and support of students’ personal development, including self-esteem and self-confidence, are core values explicitly stated as part of the school’s mission statement. A positive attitude pervades school management and those involved in the organisation and delivery of the SPHE and RSE programmes to realise this mission. The school’s curriculum reflects these values and the timetable arrangements provide concrete evidence of the position of student well-being at the core of educational provision in Newpark Comprehensive School. The timetable provision for SPHE is exemplary, with provision made from first year to sixth year. The timetabling of SPHE for one double period in first year ensures that these students are afforded ample time to identify and discuss all aspects of their well-being, especially as they make the transition from primary to secondary school. Second-year and third-year classes are timetabled for one single period of SPHE per week, in accordance with Circular Letter M11/03. In Transition Year (TY), the provision of a ten-week module, consisting of one double period per week, provides sufficient time for the delivery of the comprehensive RSE programme. In addition, fifth-year and sixth-year students are also timetabled for one double period per week for life skills, which continues many of the themes and issues explored in SPHE and RSE at junior cycle. This excellent provision ensures that students’ personal development is aptly supported as they grow and mature throughout their school career. The careful attention to the provision of a comprehensive RSE programme, at both junior and senior cycle, is highly commended. The involvement of the school in piloting the Talking Relationships Understanding Sexuality Teaching (TRUST) resource materials also indicates its willingness to take a proactive role in providing the best possible educational experiences for its students in this area.
Each year group in junior cycle is divided into two bands of three class groups each. The arrangement of timetabling SPHE concurrently for each band is good practice. Teachers should consider using this arrangement to further promote a range of collaborative approaches to enhance the educational experiences of students. These may include occasional team-teaching, the organisation of guest speakers for the three class groups or taking a rotating modular approach to the subject, with each module delivered by a teacher with particular expertise in that area.
The SPHE co-ordinator has extensive experience in teaching the subject and this role is attached to a post of responsibility. There is a well-established SPHE subject department in the school and there is openness to having new members join the team. As part of the whole-school approach to SPHE, the co-ordinator ensures that close links are maintained with senior management and the pastoral care team. SPHE is viewed as an integral component of the school’s pastoral care programme and teachers who are deployed to teach the subject possess the necessary skills to deliver a comprehensive programme that meets the needs of the student community. The deployment of teachers is given careful attention by senior management and teachers are consulted prior to their assignment to teach the programme, in keeping with good practice.
Management, and the SPHE co-ordinator in particular, have been proactive in engaging with the SPHE support service and all teachers who are assigned to teach the subject are facilitated to attend the introductory in-service training. In most cases, teachers who are interested in teaching the subject attend in-service prior to their deployment. This is highly commended as these teachers are more likely to feel confident to teach the topics and be familiar with the most effective pedagogical approaches that facilitate students’ learning in SPHE and RSE. The support and facilitation of the SPHE department’s extensive engagement with the support service, and the incremental approach taken by the school towards teachers’ ongoing professional development in SPHE and RSE, ensures the continued expansion of teachers’ knowledge and skills. In this way the school has strategically developed its professional capacity to deliver the subject and to support the whole-school approach to the principles of SPHE.
SPHE is delivered by a team of eleven teachers at junior cycle, while a further four teachers deliver the life-skills programme at senior cycle. RSE is delivered at senior cycle by the SPHE co-ordinator and another teacher who has extensive experience of delivering the programme. Every effort is made, where appropriate, for teachers to retain their assigned class groups from first year to third year. This good practice supports a consistent pedagogical approach from year to year. In addition, regular contact with their class groups ensures that teachers can develop a positive rapport with their students, which also helps to establish an open and trusting environment that is central to learning in SPHE.
A consultative approach is taken to policy formation at the school, involving members of the board of management, staff and parents, with students appropriately included where relevant. Policies related to SPHE and RSE have been developed to support students and the work of the school, including policies on substance use, tackling bullying, the code of behaviour and dealing with critical incidents. Confirmation was provided by management that the Child Protection Guidelines have been adopted in line with the requirements of the Department of Education and Skills. Good attention has been paid to the development of an RSE policy to guide the delivery of the subject in the school. To build on this good work, the RSE policy should be expanded to ensure that it provides clear guidance to parents, students and teachers on how all aspects of the programme are to be delivered.
A number of links have been established with relevant external agencies that contribute to the work of the school and the SPHE department. The school’s existing procedures in relation to visitors and guest speakers should be formalised and documented.
Management is supportive of any initiatives planned and organised by the SPHE department. The dedicated SPHE notice-board is a useful mechanism to promote relevant events, provide information and support student activities. The involvement of parents through the provision of focused talks dealing with some topics relevant to SPHE is highly commendable. In the past, a number of whole-school focus weeks were organised to promote awareness of specific health-related or social issues, such as an anti-bullying week. Consideration should be given to reviving this practice, and to the involvement of the student council in the planning and organisation of the various events. This will help to maximise students’ involvement and reduce the level of teacher input required in such undertakings.
There is a good range of resources, including access to information and communication technology (ICT), to support teaching and learning. The purchase of additional resources is supported through the school’s annual subject-department budget system. Most teachers have their own base classrooms, which supports the display and storage of student generated materials and also ensures teachers have easy access to a large range of resources and planning materials. The size and layout of the classrooms were sufficient to allow for good student and teacher mobility, which is essential for the active and participatory learning experiences used in SPHE lessons.
Parents are appropriately informed about the SPHE and RSE programmes in the school through information evenings for first year students and for the various programmes provided. In addition, a brief presentation was recently given by the SPHE support service regional development officer to the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) highlighting the content and role of the SPHE programme. An outline of the SPHE programme is also available on the school’s website and letters informing parents of the RSE course content are sent to parents prior to the delivery of the programme for each year group.
The quality of planning for the SPHE programme and the co-ordination of the subject department is exemplary. Management facilitates formal subject-department planning meetings once per term. However, due to the large number of teachers involved in delivering the SPHE programme, it has proven difficult to arrange formal meetings with all of the teachers concerned. To overcome this problem, the co-ordinator arranges a meeting with the SPHE teachers of each year group separately, once per term. This is a best fit model given the size of the subject department. Minutes of planning meetings between the co-ordinator and the various teaching groups indicate that a good range of relevant issues are discussed.
Formal planning documentation in SPHE is very comprehensive and informs the organisation and delivery of the subject in the school. The subject plan is a detailed, comprehensive document, which clearly sets out the rationale for the inclusion of SPHE on the curriculum. In addition to the programme content, the overall aims of the programme, along with all aspects related to its provision, planning, implementation and review are also clearly presented in the subject plan.
The programme content at junior cycle ensures that the syllabus is comprehensively covered. The programme of work follows the recommended framework in the SPHE Guidelines for Teachers, with the ten modules covered and revisited with each year group. This spiral approach to students’ learning supports their personal development as they grow and mature. The provision of planning folders for teachers of each year group ensures that students follow a common programme of work. The identification of each module and topic, along with the accompanying resources, provides a useful reference for teachers and ensures that the programme is delivered in a coherent, age-appropriate and relevant manner. Learning outcomes for each module are also clearly specified and the focus on experiential and active learning methods ensures that students’ learning experiences are central to the planning process, all of which is very good practice. Teachers contribute in a number of ways to the planning process, including the identification of additional resources that support students’ learning of specific topics and also providing support to the work of the co-ordinator. The extensive work involved in this process has resulted in an excellently planned, well resourced and comprehensive programme.
The use of intervention lessons, when appropriate, ensures that the SPHE programme can respond to the needs of the students and the school. An example of these interventions may include lessons that address issues such as bullying or personal hygiene and are introduced if students, parents, staff or management feel that these issues are pertinent to the school or to a particular cohort of students.
Teachers new to the subject are provided with additional supports including training on the use of the planning documents and resource packs and an introduction to the most appropriate strategies to optimise students’ learning. Training has also been provided to teachers on the principles of restorative practices. The provision of this peer support and effective mentoring is exemplary practice.
It is highly commendable that the SPHE department has identified specific strategies for the inclusion of students with special educational needs and those from culturally diverse backgrounds. Good links have been established with the learning-support department, which ensures that teachers are fully briefed and prepared to support students with additional educational needs.
The procedures for the inclusion of guest speakers follows good practice, with the material relevant to the topic covered with students prior to the arrival of the visitor. In this way, students are more informed and are better placed to engage in more meaningful debate on relevant issues with the guest speaker.
The subject plan includes reference to cross-curricular activities that support the work of the SPHE department and help to further consolidate students’ learning. To build on the good work to date, it is recommended that the modules and topics along with the key knowledge and skills that are common to other subject areas be identified. It may be possible to co-ordinate the delivery of these modules to coincide with the plans of relevant subject departments. For example, both the SPHE and science departments may cover the reproductive system around the same time and consolidate students’ learning from the perspective of both subject areas.
The school’s involvement in piloting the TRUST materials further enhances the quality of its RSE programme for TY and senior cycle students. In addition, a number of additional modules are provided to senior students that promote further learning in a range of areas such as mental health, social awareness and responsibility, substance use and study skills. The provision of these modules is highly commended.
The subject department’s engagement in a regular review process ensures that the SPHE programme continues to meet the interests and learning needs of students. Regular review is built into the subject planning process, including the identification of teachers’ further CPD, the usefulness of particular resources and the assessment process in SPHE. The recent inclusion of students in the review process is welcomed. It is also commendable that the SPHE department has developed its own focused questionnaire to ensure that students can highlight their views of the topic, resources and methods used. This provides valuable and informative feedback to subject teachers, which in turn ensures that planning is focused on meeting the needs of their students.
A good range of support materials and resources are centrally stored, catalogued and available to all teachers of SPHE, including teaching resource packs, information leaflets, handouts, worksheets, DVDs and videos. It is commendable that good use is made of ICT in the preparation of class materials and in subject planning. In addition, the identification of web-based material such as YouTube clips on internet safety provides additional, relevant and stimulating resources to support students learning. The continued use and expansion of ICT to support teaching and learning, where relevant, is recommended.
There was a high standard of teaching and learning in all SPHE lessons observed. The content chosen for each lesson reflected an appropriate balance in students’ learning in terms of gaining knowledge, developing skills and fostering attitudes and values. The topics covered in the lessons visited were: skills of working in groups, identifying personal qualities, interests and goals, and developing an agreed approach for classroom interactions in SPHE.
Prior to the commencement of lessons, students quickly arranged the classroom furniture to facilitate greater mobility and social interaction. This was completed efficiently and students were obviously well versed in these arrangements for their SPHE lessons. Following roll call, all lessons began with the teachers outlining the content and direction of the lessons. In addition, teachers also highlighted the desired outcomes for the lesson in terms of the work that should be completed and the specific knowledge and skills that students should develop as a result of their engagement. This is very good practice and in keeping with the principles of assessment for learning.
In many lessons, interactive games such as the “human knot” and “fruit salad” were used as ice breakers, which provided good opportunities for social interaction. Good practice was observed when students were set tasks that focused on the application of skills, such as listening and recalling shared information. In one instance, students had to acquire three pieces of information about the person sitting next to them and to share this with the group. Constructive feedback was given by the teacher to students, which helped to improve their interpersonal skills and the social dynamic within the group. Subtle suggestions, such as when introducing a person to the group to start with the simple phrase “this is” rather than “her/his name is”, helped to create a more personal and inclusive approach to the social interactions.
A facilitative approach was taken to all lessons, with a clear emphasis on an experiential approach to promoting students’ learning. In this way, students were fully engaged through interactive tasks that promoted the development of specific skills. Lessons progressed in a well-structured, logical manner through a range of highly effective and appropriate strategies. These included questioning, brainstorming, individual reflection, pair work, group work, peer observation and designing personal collages. These interactive methods are in keeping with the discursive nature of the subject and help to develop a range of social and cognitive skills. In all cases, a variety of stimulus materials and resources were well used to support learning and to ensure that students’ engagement with the set tasks was focused and purposeful.
Questioning was skilfully used and, in many cases, students were challenged to justify their responses, which is good practice in developing higher-order skills. Feedback from group work was very effectively processed by teachers who wrote student responses on the board or displayed students’ work on the wall. In one instance, feedback was provided by students who were involved in peer observation. This was focused and informative and provided a very accurate reflection of how the class approached and completed their assigned task. This feedback was then used to inform the subsequent discussion, which heightened students’ awareness of how they work together and the contribution they can make to work more effectively as a group.
In all cases, teachers ensured that students’ learning was consolidated at the end of the lesson. This is particularly important to ensure that students can clearly identify the key learning from their engagement in the set tasks. Students were actively challenged and motivated by all of the tasks, and their engagement with and enthusiasm for the subject was high. There was a friendly and caring atmosphere in all lessons visited and an excellent rapport has been developed between students and their teachers. Classrooms visited were well presented and the display of student-generated SPHE material is commendable as it provides positive affirmation of students’ efforts and engagement with the subject.
Students demonstrated a good ability to communicate clearly about the topics and themes explored during their lessons. They confidently rationalised their opinions in an informed manner when questioned about the content and relevance of their lessons.
Teachers maintain good records of students’ attendance in class. Students’ work is retained in dedicated folders, which is good practice. Over time, students can collect a significant amount of work, which provides a valuable record of their reflections and learning. There are a range of approaches to assessment of students’ learning in SPHE. Self-assessment is used to support students’ learning in SPHE and to inform teachers of the level of student engagement in the various class tasks. This approach is commended as it helps students to focus on the specific knowledge and skills that support their personal development and ability to make informed choices. Students also complete worksheets in class and undertake assignments at times throughout their SPHE course. It is commendable that some home tasks assigned to students involve researching a topic, or discussion with their parents or guardians. This good practice can help to stimulate conversations between family members around social and personal issues.
The challenge for the SPHE department is to collectively build on the current practice to further develop the assessment process. The range of formative and summative strategies should be agreed by the SPHE department so that they reflect students’ development of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values. Consideration should be given to the development of student portfolios of learning. This may be an extension of the present personal-folder system, whereby students select the pieces of work that they feel reflects their level of engagement, progress and attainment. An agreed number of items may be included, such as extracts from a reflective journal, self-assessment profiles, posters, written reports, photographs or digital recordings. The portfolio could form the basis for evaluative comments on students’ engagement and attainment in SPHE and for discussion at parent-teacher meetings. Further information and advice on assessment in SPHE are available in the Guidelines for Teachers (pages 59-68).
It is commendable that SPHE teachers attend all parent-teacher meetings as this is a useful forum to establish a connection with parents. SPHE is included on the report forms home to parents and the use of a formative comment is in keeping with good practice.
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:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published June 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1: Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management acknowledges the very positive report on the work of the SPHE Department. The Board also notes the key recommendations to build on these strengths and will incorporate them in the ongoing review of the programme.