An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of
Social, Personal and Health Education
Árdscoil La Salle
Raheny Road, Dublin 5
Roll number: 60291D
Date of inspection: 5 December 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 Árdscoil La Salle, Raheny. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health Education (including Relationships and Sexuality Education in senior cycle) 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.
Árdscoil La Salle, a voluntary secondary Catholic school, currently caters for 289 male and 117 female students. The school participates in the School Completion Programme, an initiative of the Department of Education and Science to improve the levels of successful completion of second level education among students. SPHE as a curriculum subject is well provided for and it benefits from strong whole-school support. Each junior cycle class is timetabled for SPHE in line with the requirements of Circular Letter M11/03.
The school has an anti-bullying policy, which is currently under review, a draft policy on alcohol, tobacco and drug use and a relationships and sexuality education (RSE) policy, dated 2001. The RSE policy should also be reviewed at the first available opportunity to ensure that it is meeting the current needs of the school and this should be done in consultation with parents. The RSE programme in senior cycle is delivered to some students through the religion department. It is now recommended that this programme be revised and that the revised version be agreed with parents and delivered to all senior cycle students. The school might find it useful to refer to the recently developed TRUST (Talking Relationships Understanding Sexuality Teaching) resource for teaching senior cycle. It consists of a DVD and twenty accompanying lessons and is available through the training programme for senior cycle RSE.
In the current year, a core team of six teachers delivers the SPHE programme, some of whom work in a permanent capacity in the school. This allocation is good as it provides opportunities for new teachers to join the SPHE team while ensuring that there is continuity within the SPHE department. It is also good to note that most of those teaching the subject were assigned following consultation and that they are also teaching another subject to their class group. Currently, there is no co-ordinator for SPHE. It is recommended that initially, one member of the team should undertake co-ordination of the subject. This role could then be rotated amongst other members of the department. This would be an invaluable support for all teachers in the SPHE department and ensure a collaborative approach to the planning and the delivery of the subject in the school.
In some cases, teachers are timetabled to teach SPHE in rooms which are unsuitable for this purpose because they do not easily facilitate the inclusion of active, participative approaches such as group work in lessons. It is recommended that every effort be made to ensure that all SPHE lessons occur in classroom environments conducive to the use of the learning methodologies advocated for the successful delivery of the subject.
The school is very supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development. In the past, some teachers attended in-service regarding the On my Own Two Feet programme. It is recommended that an audit of teachers’ current training needs be undertaken and that this information should be included in the department plan. An incremental approach to the further development of teachers’ skills in SPHE, including RSE, should be adopted, and, in so doing, maximum use should be made of the opportunities for training offered by the SPHE support service.
Currently, there is no co-ordinated approach to the acquisition and filing of resources. It is good that teachers create materials which are designed specifically for their individual classes. Attention should now be given to ensuring that these materials are readily accessible by all team members and appropriately filed and catalogued. It is also recommended that consideration be given to displaying additional SPHE-related materials in classrooms as a way of maximising the potential of the students’ immediate learning environment. This would also help to stimulate and retain their interest in issues and topics relevant to the subject.
Information and communications technology (ICT) has been used for the development of resources and this is good. However, there is scope to explore further the ways in which ICT can be integrated into lessons. Further information in this regard can be obtained on the website of the SPHE support service.
School management has made time available to subject departments for team meetings and programme planning. However, in practice, SPHE department meetings are not often held. This is because SPHE teachers attend the department meetings for their specialist subjects which are held at the same time. This is regrettable as it means that opportunities for collaborative work in SPHE are limited and that the benefits that derive from sharing of ideas and resources are lessened. An examination of the subject department plan for SPHE indicated that significant work is needed in updating it. It is recommended that the SPHE teachers should meet formally to address this and discuss other issues regarding, for example, methodologies and assessment.
In order to ensure that there is a spiral and developmental approach to the teaching and learning of SPHE, it is essential that the subject department plan is updated and completed following collaboration amongst members of the team and this is recommended. Templates developed by the school development planning initiative (SDPI) are available at www.sdpi.ie and these could now be used as an additional tool for the writing of the plan.
Individual planning in some cases was found to be of a very high quality. This was evident through the meticulous systems which have been developed for acquiring and storing materials and the creation of a very vibrant classroom atmosphere. Sharing these very good practices would benefit all members of the team. Planning for all the lessons observed was good. This was evident through, for example, the provision of handouts and worksheets, which were seamlessly integrated into lessons at appropriate stages. In one classroom the class contract, developed through negotiation between the teacher and the class, was displayed and referred to as a strategy for the management of students during the course of the lesson. Devising a class contract on a collaborative basis in this way and openly displaying it is good practice and one that could be introduced to other class groups.
Five lessons were visited during the course of the evaluation. Student attendance was monitored by all teachers. Lessons were purposeful and there was very good continuity with prior learning. In some cases, the aims and objectives of the lessons were shared with the students and documented on the board. This is optimal practice and should be included in all lessons as it provides a focus and structure for the students.
The content and pace of the lessons observed were appropriate to each class group. A wide range of teaching methodologies was observed and many of these strategies are in keeping with those recommended for the delivery of SPHE. These provided students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning. Strategies such as brainstorming, pair work, group work and games are some examples of the strategies which were used in some lessons. The wider usage of these strategies is recommended.
Best practice was observed when the teacher facilitated the lesson and the students were very active and assumed responsibility for their own learning. For example, in one lesson observed, the theme of the lesson was communication. Students participated in a game which required them to work collaboratively in order to achieve the task. Opportunities for students to apply some initiative were also created in this lesson. This activity was clearly enjoyed by the students but it was equally apparent that the learning was consistently high throughout the lesson. The provision of a defined timeframe for the completion of these tasks ensured that classroom management was very good. Questioning strategies which included both global and questions targeted to individual students were effective and further enhanced the level of learning in lessons.
In all lessons, teachers managed students sensitively, welcomed all contributions and were appropriately respectful of their individual needs. In turn, students were open and it is very evident that an atmosphere of mutual trust is developing very well in all classes.
In some classes visited, it was clear that a system has been developed for students to file and store personal materials from SPHE lessons. This typically took the form of a folder which was stored by the teacher and distributed to students at the beginning of the lesson. This is very good practice and its increased usage is recommended.
Students’ progress is assessed on an on-going basis through oral questioning. Consideration should now be given to the inclusion of student reflection and self-assessment in the modes of assessment to be used in the SPHE department. Parents can meet with teachers to discuss progress at parent-teacher evenings. Currently, SPHE does not feature on the formal school reports that issue to parents. In order to enhance the profile of SPHE, it is recommended that the subject should now be included within the formal school report system. However, in advance of any such measure attention needs to be given by the SPHE team to agreeing the criteria to be applied by all teachers to assess students’ progress and achievement. Consideration could be given to including the learner’s project and portfolio work and his or her level of engagement in lessons in the assessment process.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· SPHE benefits from good subject provision and strong whole-school support.
· Each junior cycle class is timetabled in line with the requirements of Circular Letter M11/03.
· All teachers currently teaching SPHE were assigned either by request or following consultation.
· The school is very supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development.
· A wide range of teaching methodologies was observed in the lessons visited.
· Best practice was observed when the teacher facilitated the lesson and when the students were active involved in set tasks.
· The use of varied questioning strategies enabled students to communicate freely in all lessons observed
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· Co-ordination of the SPHE department should now be undertaken by individual members on a rotation basis.
· Every effort should be made to timetable lessons in classrooms which are more suited to the use of the learning methodologies advocated for the successful delivery of SPHE.
· A co-ordinated RSE programme for senior cycle students must be developed as a matter of priority.
· The school policy regarding RSE should now be updated and agreed with parents.
· A co-ordinated approach should now be taken to the acquisition and management of all resources for the teaching and learning of SPHE.
· SPHE should now be included within the formal school report system.
A post-evaluation meeting was 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.
Published June 2009