An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of
Social, Personal and Health Education
Saint Davidís Christian Brothersí School
Artane, Dublin 5
Roll number: 60471F
Date of inspection: 10 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 St Davidís Christian Brothersí School (CBS). 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 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 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.
St Davidís CBS, Artane, caters for 443 male students. The school participates in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) action plan for educational inclusion and in the School Completion Programme (SCP), an initiative of the Department of Education and Science to improve the levels of successful completion of second level education among students. Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is well provided for as a curriculum subject and a post of responsibility has been assigned to the co-ordination of the subject.
Each junior cycle class is timetabled for SPHE in line with the requirements of Circular Letter M11/03. In addition to the classroom activities planned and delivered by the SPHE teachers, the junior cycle programme includes presentations by external personnel and a verbal account of all such work is provided to the co-ordinator of SPHE in advance. Students are orally debriefed by their SPHE teachers following all presentations. It is recommended that all information provided by presenters should be documented and made available to all the SPHE teachers concerned. Also, all evaluations of presentations undertaken by students should be recorded. This information and any other relevant detail should be included in the SPHE department plan. This is essential in order to ensure that appropriate follow-through takes place on any important issues which arise in the externally-delivered sessions.
The Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme for senior cycle is organised by the co-ordinator of Religion and it is delivered to all students. This programme is clearly described in the school RSE policy and it is very apparent that good use has been made of the planning templates available at www.education.ie which were specially designed for this purpose. The policy was devised following collaboration with staff and with the parentsí association. It is recommended that, in any future review of the policy, student input regarding programme content should be included.
In the current year, a team of thirteen teachers delivers the SPHE programme and this includes seven who are new to the SPHE department. All SPHE teachers are tutors to their class group. There has been a regular turnover of SPHE teachers each year and, since there is an expectation that all tutors will deliver the SPHE programme, many of the new SPHE teachers were not consulted about their assignment to teach this subject. Nevertheless, there is a spirit of enthusiasm amongst this team for the subject. It is good to note that all those delivering SPHE are involved in other subjects with their class group. Every effort should now be made to build a core group of SPHE teachers. This would allow the SPHE department to stabilise and would ensure that there is a committed team in the long-term. It is recommended that all teachers remain with their class group for the three-year cycle, as far as possible. Very good efforts have been made to create a gender balance within the teaching team. This is commended. A special duties post has been allocated for the co-ordination of SPHE. This is good support for the subject.
In some cases, teachers are timetabled to teach SPHE in rooms, such as science laboratories, which are unsuitable for this purpose. This provision does not easily facilitate the inclusion of active participative approaches such as group work into lessons. It is recommended that every effort be made to ensure that all SPHE lessons take place in classroom environments conducive to the use of learning methodologies advocated for the successful delivery of the subject.
The school is very supportive of teachersí continuing professional development and attendance at in-service provided by the SPHE support service has been facilitated. Some of the teachers currently delivering SPHE have accessed this training. Once the SPHE department becomes more stable, it is recommended that an audit of teachersí training needs be undertaken and that this information be included in the department plan. This would help to ensure that there is an incremental and developmental approach to the training and development of teachersí knowledge and skills.
The school endeavours to create an environment that promotes SPHE in a wider whole-school context. The school participated in a pilot project Working Things Out Through SPHE for second-year students with the Mater Hospital, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. Under the SCP, a breakfast club and homework club are available to the students. In the past, the school operated a buddy system between transition year (TY) students and first-year students. Since these initiatives all help to support the SPHE programme, it is suggested that consideration be given to re-invigorating the buddy system.
Resources to support the teaching of SPHE have been acquired and are currently stored in the coordinatorís classroom. It is recommended that these resources should be stored in a more central location in order to allow other team members to access them more easily. It is good to see that teachers create materials which are designed specifically for their individual classes. It is recommended that additional SPHE-related materials should be displayed in all classrooms as a way of maximising the potential of the studentsí immediate learning environment to stimulate and retain their interest in issues and topics relevant to the subject.
Information and communications technology (ICT) resources are good in the school. All classrooms have a computer and, in almost all cases, there is also a data projector. ICT has been used for the development of resources and, in some cases, it has been integrated into lessons as a teaching tool. This is good practice and is commended.
All members of the SPHE department meet formally each term. Thereafter, all collaboration is undertaken informally between individual members of the team. Minutes of some meetings were available at the time of this evaluation. It is recommended that minutes should be taken at all formal meetings and they should be included in the planning folder.
During the evaluation, a written programme of work for SPHE was presented. This plan was devised by the co-ordinator. Each teacher has been provided with an individual folder containing an outline of topics within modules to be covered, a list of suggested methodologies and some resources taken from the On My Own Two Feet programme. This plan indicated that there is a spiral and developmental approach being taken to the delivery of SPHE. It is good to note that templates have been designed for students and teachers to evaluate the work at the end of each lesson. The work of the co-ordinator in producing such valuable resources is acknowledged and commended.
To progress the good work already done in planning, it is recommended that the department plan be further developed following collaboration between all members to ensure that it is appropriate to all class groups. In the interim, it is recommended that all teachers keep a record of all lessons. These records should document the methodologies, resources and modes of assessment being used to deliver topics. These documents would be a tangible record for future planning purposes and should also be used for devising schemes of work. This is recommended.
Individual planning for each lesson observed during the evaluation was good. This was evident through, for example, the provision of carefully designed handouts and worksheets which were integrated into lessons at appropriate stages. In some classrooms a class contract, developed through negotiation between the teacher and the class, was displayed. Devising a class contract on a collaborative basis in this way and openly displaying it is good practice and one that should be introduced to other class groups.
Nine lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation. All lessons began with a roll call. Lessons were purposeful and there was very good continuity with prior learning. In all cases the aims and the objectives were clearly stated. In general, lesson content and pace were appropriate to each class group. Difficulties arose when too much time was allocated to an activity and consequently, students became disengaged with the content of the lesson. It is recommended that planning for lessons should be reviewed to ensure that the pace of instruction keeps students focussed. As lessons progress, care should be taken to monitor studentsí responses to activities and plans should be amended as necessary.
Many of the teaching and learning strategies observed are in keeping with those recommended for the delivery of SPHE. The range of methodologies used provided students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning. These included strategies such as pair work and group work, brainstorming, presentations by students, questioning, individual work, discussion and reflection.
Best practice was observed when lessons included a variety of methodologies, the teacher acted as facilitator and where students were active and assumed responsibility for their own learning. For example, in one lesson observed, students working in groups presented projects. Each group were very well prepared and consequently the standard of presentations was very good. As part of the presentation, each group used PowerPoint very competently and they had prepared a worksheet for the other students to complete in order to reinforce the learning. These strategies led to a lesson which was engaging and where a high level of learning occurred.
A second lesson on healthy eating was equally successful. In order to demonstrate to students the value of developing healthy eating habits, various healthy food items were brought in by the teacher. Students were provided with the opportunity to sample the food. Students clearly enjoyed the exercise and the key message of the lesson was reinforced very successfully as a result of this strategy. The use of a DVD in another lesson observed was well managed. Studentsí learning was well structured through the provision of worksheets designed specifically to suit their needs.
Group work was deployed effectively in most lessons observed. It was least successful when the teacherís position in the room meant that some groups could not be monitored consistently. Consequently, some students did not fully engage with the content of the lesson. During any group activity, it is essential that all students should be in the teacherís line of sight at all times. This is recommended.
Every opportunity to use student initiative and creativity was fully optimised in the lessons observed. For example, in one lesson, students responded very well to a role-play activity. In all lessons, teachers managed students very sensitively and were appropriately respectful of their individual needs. There was much evidence overall that an atmosphere of mutual trust is developing well in all class groups.
In all classes, it is clear that a system has been developed for students to file and store personal materials from the SPHE lessons. This typically takes the form of a folder. The folders are stored in the classroom and distributed to students at the beginning of each lesson. This is in keeping with good practice. The school currently does not report to parents on studentsí progress in SPHE. Discussions regarding appropriate criteria for assessment of studentsí work should now be prioritised at planning meetings. Consideration should also be given to how student reflection and self-assessment, currently ongoing in lessons, could inform the school report. This is recommended. Parents are provided with opportunities to meet with teachers to discuss progress at parent-teacher evenings.
Student progress is assessed on an ongoing basis through oral questioning. This varies between targeting individual students and distributing questions to the entire class for discussion. Care must be taken to ensure that lessons are not dominated by the more vocal students. This is recommended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Timetabling arrangements for SPHE are in line with syllabus guidelines.
∑ There is a very good gender balance of teachers in the SPHE department.
∑ A post of responsibility has been allocated to the co-ordination of SPHE.
∑ The school is very supportive of teachersí continuing professional development.
∑ There is a spirit of enthusiasm amongst the SPHE team for the subject.
∑ Good use has been made of the planning templates available on the Departmentís website to inform the RSE policy.
∑ The range of methodologies used in lessons provides students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning.
∑ ICT was successfully integrated into some of the lessons observed.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ Every effort should now be made to build a core group within the SPHE teaching team.
∑ The subject department plan for SPHE should be progressed through collaboration between all SPHE teachers.
∑ The school should now ensure that studentsí progress and achievement in SPHE is included in the formal reports that issue to parents.
A post-evaluation meeting was held with 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 June 2009