An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of

Social, Personal and Health Education ( SPHE )



Saint Patrickís College


Roll number: 61060M


Date of inspection: 6 March 2009





Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations

School response to the report





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 Patrickís College, Cavan. 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, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.



Subject provision and whole school support


St Patrickís College, Cavan currently caters for 521 male students. Social, Personal and Health Education (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 Circular Letter M11/03. A post of responsibility has been assigned to the co-ordination of the subject. However, the post-holder is not involved directly with the delivery of the subject in the current academic year but has experience of teaching this subject in the past. It is recommended that the co-ordinator is re-established as part of the teaching team of SPHE at the earliest opportunity.


In addition to the activities planned and delivered by the SPHE teachers, the junior cycle programme includes seminars facilitated by external personnel. All external inputs are agreed with the SPHE teachers in advance. These seminars include input by the Samaritans and a local general practitioner (GP) who covers topics such as sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and emotional health. The co-ordinator is provided with a verbal account of the content to be covered in advance of these events. Some SPHE teachers conduct informal de-briefing sessions with students after these seminars while others adopt more formal procedures. It is recommended that the information provided by presenters should be documented and made available to all the teachers of SPHE concerned. Also, studentsí evaluations should be recorded. This information and any other relevant detail should be included in the 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 school has an anti-bullying policy and a substance use policy in place. The relationships and sexuality education (RSE) programme in senior cycle is currently not co-ordinated by a particular member of staff. It was reported that aspects of RSE are taught within the religion programme at the discretion of individual teachers of Religion. This work is not documented in the SPHE plan. It is strongly recommended that a suitable RSE programme for senior cycle students be developed and integrated with the SPHE plan as a matter of priority. While doing this, the school might find it useful to refer to the recently developed TRUST (Talking Relationships Understanding Sexuality Teaching) resource for senior cycle. It consists of a DVD and twenty accompanying lessons and is available through the training programme for senior cycle RSE. The RSE programme should be shared with parents in advance of its delivery. It is further recommended that an agreed school policy regarding RSE should also be developed to comply with Rule 20 of Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools and with Circular Letter 0027/2008. Materials are available from the SPHE support service to support this process.


In the current year, there is a core team of eight teachers of SPHE, most of whom are experienced in teaching this subject and teach it to more than one class group. This is good practice. Very good efforts have been made to create a gender balance within this teaching team. The school is supportive of teachersí continuing professional development and attendance at in-service provided by the SPHE support service has been facilitated. Most of the teachers currently delivering SPHE have attended the Introductory Training and a smaller number have completed the Continuation course. 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 further development of teachersí knowledge and skills in this subject.


The school endeavours to create an environment that promotes SPHE in a wider whole-school context. In 2005, members of the board of management, in collaboration with the parentsí association, initiated a Healthy Eating Campaign and after much time and effort, achieved a very successful outcome. Other initiatives undertaken by the school include the Cool Schools Programme, the Key Programme, which is a cross-border activity, and the Rainbows Programme. First-year students are also mentored by sixth-year students upon entry into the school. These initiatives all help to support the SPHE programme.


Resources to support the teaching of SPHE have been acquired and are currently stored in the staff room, where they are accessible to all SPHE teachers. All resources have been audited and a list is included in the SPHE plan. Teachers have also devised or acquired handouts and worksheets for individual use in lessons.


There are very good information and communications technology (ICT) resources in this school. The generosity of the parentsí association in contributing funding in this regard is acknowledged. Eighteen laptops and a number of data projectors have been acquired by the school and these are located in classrooms. ICT has been used for the development of resources for SPHE and, in some cases, it has been integrated into SPHE lessons as a teaching tool. This is good practice and is commended.


Some of the classrooms in which SPHE lessons were observed are very suitable for the teaching of the subject as they readily facilitate the active and participative teaching approaches recommended in the syllabus. It is recommended that all SPHE lessons should be timetabled in these classrooms. The absence of subject-related material in most classrooms visited was noted. Appropriate displays related to SPHE can be useful for maximising the potential of the studentsí immediate learning environment to stimulate and retain their interest in issues and topics relevant to the subject.



Planning and preparation


All members of the SPHE department meet formally each term. Minutes of these meetings were available during the evaluation as was a written programme of work for SPHE. This programme has been developed collaboratively by the co-ordinator and the teachers of SPHE. It outlines the organisational structures of the department and includes a long-term content plan, which indicates that there is a spiral and developmental approach being taken to the delivery of SPHE. This work could now be further developed by including a medium-term content plan listing the topics within modules and an estimated timeframe for teaching each. It is recommended that teachers keep a record of all lessons. These records should document the methodologies, resources and modes of assessment being used to deliver each module. This information would be a tangible record for future planning purposes and should also be used for devising schemes of work. Student evaluation should also be included as a key component of assessment.


Individual planning for most lessons observed during the evaluation was good. This was evident through the provision of handouts and worksheets which were integrated into lessons at appropriate stages. The class contract, developed through negotiation between the class and the teacher, was evident in some copies. Devising a class contract on a collaborative basis and openly displaying it is good practice. It is recommended that a class contract be devised for all class groups.



Teaching and learning


Five lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation. All lessons were purposeful and there was very good continuity with prior learning. Each began with a roll call. In some lessons, the aims and the learning intention were shared with the students. This is optimal practice and it should be adopted by all teachers as it provides students with a focus for their learning. In general, pace and content were appropriate to each lesson observed.


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. ICT was used effectively in some lessons. Best practice was observed when lessons included a variety of methodologies, where the teacher was a facilitator and the students were actively involved in their own learning. For example, in one lesson observed, students participated in a quiz which was used to determine their understanding of the topic from previous lessons. The students were organised into groups which were pre-determined by the teacher. This quiz appealed to the students and a healthy competitive spirit was very evident in the lesson. Meticulous attention was paid by the teacher to recording the responses given by each group in order to assess their learning and to identify any areas for development. This is very good practice.


In another lesson, on road safety, students were asked questions, examined headlines from newspapers, watched two short video clips and provided with a summary of what had occurred in the video following further questioning. Time was also allocated for discussion where students volunteered personal information about the topic. This lesson successfully sustained the studentsí interest. It was clear that the variety of teaching strategies deployed was a factor that contributed to this.


In most lessons, students were well managed and discipline was sensitively handled. Difficulties arose in one lesson when poor placement of students resulted in incessant talking that was unrelated to the topic of the lesson. In some instances, the students in question went unchallenged. It is important that students understand their learning environment to be one where discussions relevant to the lesson are welcomed but where misbehaviour is not accepted. These parameters should be a main consideration when devising the class contract.


Opportunities to use student initiative and creativity were provided in most lessons observed. These were evident in group work and pair work activities, individual work on learning tasks and responses to questions.





In most classes, students file and store personal materials from the SPHE lessons in a folder. In some, this is stored by the teacher and distributed to students at the beginning of each lesson. This approach is best practice and one that should be used by all teachers.


In some of the lessons observed, teachers summarised the learning at the end of the lesson although it was noted that they did not create opportunities for the students themselves to reflect on what they had achieved during the lesson. This practice of consolidating learning is good but the engagement of learners is necessary to derive maximum benefit from it.


Student progress is assessed on an ongoing basis through oral questioning. This varies between targeting individual students and distributing questions to the entire class. Questioning strategies were most effective when addressed to named students. Care should also be taken to ensure that lessons are not dominated by the more vocal students.


Overall, it is recommended that the SPHE team should further explore and extend the range of assessment modes used in SPHE lessons. Self-assessment is one possible approach and materials in studentsí folders and copies can act as a basis for this. Further information and advice on assessment in SPHE is available in the Guidelines for Teachers (pages 59 to 68) and from the SPHE support service.


Formal reports are issued to parents at Christmas and summer. The school reports to parents on studentsí progress in SPHE. This generally takes the form of a comment on the school report. As part of planning for assessment, some consideration should be given to basis upon which these comments are written. Teachers also have opportunities to discuss student progress at parent-teacher meetings.



Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

         SPHE as a curriculum subject is well provided for and benefits from strong whole-school support.

         A post of responsibility has been assigned for the co-ordination of the subject.

         A core team of experienced SPHE teachers has been developed.

         The school is supportive of teachersí continuing professional development and SPHE teachers have attended courses provided by the SPHE support service.

         The school endeavours to create an environment that promotes SPHE in the wider whole-school context.

         Very good information and communications technology (ICT) resources are available in the school to support the delivery of SPHE.

         All lessons observed were purposeful and there was very good continuity with previous learning.

         In some lessons observed a range of methodologies was integrated into the lesson and this was good practice.



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

         All information provided by external facilitators should be documented and included in the SPHE plan.

         A suitable RSE programme for senior cycle should be developed and integrated into the SPHE plan.

         An agreed school policy regarding RSE should also be developed.

         The SPHE team should further explore and extend the range of assessment modes used in SPHE lessons.

         A class contract should be devised on a collaborative basis with all classes and openly displayed.


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 November 2009







                                                                                                                               School response to the report


Submitted by the Board of Management





Area 1:  Observations on the content of the inspection report



Area 2:   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the   inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection


RSE programme for senior cycle students is almost completed. Also nearing completion is a school policy regarding RSE.