An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Social Personal and Health Education



Loreto High School,

Beaufort, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14

Roll number: 60340N


Date of inspection: 28 February 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 (SPHE)

Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto High School, Beaufort, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 one day 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.


Subject provision and whole school support

As one of the initial pilot schools for the Substance Abuse Prevention Programme (SAPP), Loreto High School was well placed for the implementation of the SPHE syllabus on its introduction to the Irish post-primary curriculum. SPHE is a core subject on the curriculum in the school and all junior cycle classes receive one period per week in line with circular M11/03. To further develop the existing timetabling arrangements for the subject, it is recommended that some consideration be given to timetabling one year group concurrently for SPHE at junior cycle. This approach may help to facilitate team-teaching, guest speakers or a modular approach to the subject for that year group. Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is embedded as part of the SPHE programme in junior cycle. The RSE programme at senior cycle is provided for sixth-years students with one period every fortnight. Whilst this arrangement ensures that senior students receive the required tuition for the subject, consideration should be given to providing some of the RSE modules in fifth-year. This will ensure that the subject material is developed in a progressive manner and that students are facilitated in their knowledge and decision making as they mature through all of their school years.


Loreto High School has a long tradition of ensuring that the pastoral needs of its students are appropriately addressed and SPHE is viewed by management and staff as a key element in the schoolís pastoral care system. There are good links with the guidance department to enhance the quality of support for students in need of additional support. It is good practice that the SPHE coordinator is also a member of the pastoral care team, thus ensuring that policies and practices relevant to all aspects of student well-being and development are appropriately reinforced through the SPHE programme. All relevant policies have been developed to support the subject including substance use, anti-bullying, critical incidents and RSE. The SPHE policy has been developed by a core team and is integrated into the school plan. In addition the child protection guidelines have been adopted and a designated liaison person and deputy liaison person have been appointed. The process and procedures for developing, ratifying, implementing and reviewing school policies is in keeping with good practice.


SPHE related activities are well promoted throughout the school year and the subject benefits from a supportive whole-school climate. A dedicated notice-board acts as a useful focal point for the dissemination and display of relevant notices, activities and promotional posters. There was ample evidence of student activities in SPHE-related events promoted throughout the school. These co- and extra-curricular activities are well supported by management through the allocation of time and financial assistance.


The SPHE department is composed of a core team of five experienced teachers, four of whom are deployed to teach SPHE at junior cycle and one who delivers the RSE course at senior cycle. It is highly commendable that all teachers have been actively involved in continuous professional development (CPD) in SPHE. The school is actively engaged with the SPHE support service and the coordinator takes responsibility for the identification and notification of upcoming courses organised by the support service. Management is reportedly very supportive of all teachersí CPD and provides both time and financial assistance to support attendance at relevant in-service and related courses. The SPHE department maintains records of training received, which is good practice. Systems are in place whereby the SPHE coordinator supports the induction of new teachers into the subject in the school, which is also good practice. It is suggested that some consideration be given to inviting additional members of staff, who may be suitable and interested in teaching SPHE in the future, to undertake in-service in the subject. In this way, management can build capacity within the school and facilitate future deployment of teachers as required, in addition to enhancing the whole-school approach to the principles of SPHE.


School management endeavours to ensure that teachers remain with their SPHE class group for the duration of the three year junior cycle. This arrangement is good practice as it helps to develop trusting relationships between students and their teacher, which is essential given the personal nature of SPHE.


Classrooms are teacher-based and this arrangement was observed to work very well for both the teachers and the students. The size and layout of the classrooms was sufficient to allow for good student and teacher mobility, which is essential for active and participatory learning experiences promoted in SPHE. All classrooms are fitted with a data projector, which allows for easy access to on-line and stored visual displays, presentations, videos and other relevant resources. All teachers have access to a laptop to support their practice. The exemplary provision for information and communications technology (ICT) to support the work of teachers and students in the classroom is highly commended.†


Management facilitates planning for SPHE through the provision of formal meeting time, usually once per term. Communications with parents include the use of the student journal, school newsletter as well as formal letters to parents informing them of the RSE modules. A series of presentations are also organised for parents, through the parents association, on related topics such as parenting, bullying, issues affecting teenagers and substance abuse. Furthermore, there are plans to use group text messaging, to inform parents of relevant information, such as the commencement of the RSE programme. All of these arrangements to ensure open and effective communications with all school partners are highly commendable.


A budget system is reported to work well for the procurement of additional resources for SPHE and management is supportive of all requests. A substantial range of resources including texts, videos, DVDís and worksheets are stored in a dedicated area in the teachersí resource room. This is good practice as it ensures that all members of the SPHE team have easy access to the materials in preparation for their lessons.


Planning and preparation

The SPHE team work collaboratively as a subject department and regularly hold formal minuted meetings to plan their work. Documents presented during the inspection indicated that a range of appropriate issues are discussed at meetings including the organisation of programmes of work and arrangements for visiting speakers or guests. A member of the SPHE team takes responsibility for the coordination of the subject and actively facilitates the sharing of resources and promotes good practice. The role of the subject coordinator is clearly specified and there was evidence that these duties are very well executed. It is recommended that the role of coordinator be rotated at regular intervals to ensure that all teachers avail of the experience and share the responsibility equitably.


The programme of work follows the recommended framework in the teacherís guidelines for SPHE. Teachers follow a common programme and all ten modules are covered with each year group. Whilst significant progress has been made in planning a coherent and progressive programme of work, there is scope for the further expansion of the subject plan. In order to ensure continuity and progression from year to year, it is important that the specific learning outcomes for each module be identified for each year group together with the content, teaching and learning methods, resources and possible modes of assessment. This approach will further expand the existing scheme of work and provide a more detailed framework for teachers to work within.


Cross-curricular links are also identified in the subject plan and identify other subject areas such as Science, Home Economics, Religion and Art that share common themes or may contribute to the promotion of key concepts. The further expansion of these links is recommended to help students learning and deepen their knowledge and understanding of the focused topics.


Students engage in a range of positive health-related and social awareness initiatives, including healthy eating week, walk to school programme, spirit week, peer-buddies and anti-bullying awareness week. In addition, students also engage in substantial fund-raising activities to support a variety of worthy charities as well as participating in a social outreach programme. These co- and extra-curricular activities help to consolidate students learning in SPHE through the application of the range of social, communication and decision-making skills, which is highly commendable.


The school has a clear policy in relation to visiting speakers and the use of outside agencies. Good links have been established between the school and professional organisations such as an Garda SŪochŠna, Accord, Focus Ireland as well as visiting theatre groups that address SPHE related issues through drama. Significant and well coordinated planning takes place to ensure that the relevant subject matter is covered with students prior to the arrival of the guest speaker or group. This exemplary practice ensures that students are well informed and better placed to engage in meaningful debate on relevant issues and concerns with the guest speaker.


It is commendable that an annual review of the programme of work and supporting resources takes place at a subject department level. The SPHE department and senior management have reflected on the strengths of the SPHE programme and are aware of the challenges facing the effective implementation of the subject material, including the impact on students of the changing social demographics, family structure and social interactions in modern Ireland. The SPHE department have planned to introduce a student review of the programme and have developed a questionnaire to provide students with the opportunity to reflect and comment on their experiences and learning in SPHE. This is good practice and the implementation of this plan is recommended.


There was evidence that all SPHE teachers engage in effective individual planning and preparation for their lessons. Plans presented were based on the common programme of work and were in line with the syllabus guidelines. Teachers also maintain a record of work completed, which is good practice.


The SPHE syllabus, Guidelines for Teachers and the SPHE Handbook are readily accessible to teachers. Planning for the provision of resources includes the identification, sourcing and sharing of material and other resources to support teaching and learning of SPHE, which is commendable practice.


Teaching and learning

There is a good standard of teaching and learning of SPHE in this school. The focused topics in the lessons observed were personal safety and substance use. Teachers were well prepared for their lessons and detailed lessons plans identifying the aim, content and structure of the lessons were presented in all cases. A good variety of materials and resources to support learning, such as webpageís, worksheets and focus cards, were prepared prior to the lessons and this good practice ensured that the class activities progressed well. 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.


All lessons were well structured and paced to take cognisance of studentsí levels and abilities. Lessons commenced quickly and in all cases, teachers began by revising and recapping on previous learning. This good practice ensured that studentsí learning was reinforced and consolidated, and also helped students to view the present lesson as part of a progressive series in the development of their knowledge and understanding of the focused topic. Teachers set the context for the lesson by relating the topic to aspects of studentsí lives, knowledge and experience. This ensured that the subject matter was made immediately relevant to students, which resulted in a high level of engagement. Whilst all lessons had a clear purpose, it is recommended that the intended learning outcomes and criteria for successful learning are shared with students at the commencement of lessons. This will help students to remain focused on their learning throughout the lesson.


A range of good, effective teaching and learning strategies were used including question and answer sessions, brainstorming, discussion and small group work. In addition, resources were used to good effect to promote discussion and consolidate learning. There was a good focus on active and experiential learning in all lessons, which is in keeping with the recommended pedagogical approaches in SPHE. These approaches emphasised social and personal development through the application of social skills and decision making skills. It is commendable that most lessons involved students working in small groups, which provided good opportunities for them to apply their communication and decision-making skills. Groupwork was well organised and students were obviously well versed in this approach to learning in SPHE. Instructions for set tasks were clear and unambiguous. Feedback from groupwork was well processed by the teachers and studentsí responses were recorded on the board, which is good practice. It is recommended that students retain a record of the class responses in their copybooks as this can serve as a useful reference for future lessons on the focused topic.


There was a good commitment to oral questioning in all lessons observed. Teachers used a good mix of factual recall and higher-order questioning, which were relevant and logically sequenced to develop students learning in a progressive manner. In most cases students were encouraged to expand and develop their answers to justify their opinions, which helped promote higher-order thinking skills. In some cases, global questioning was predominantly used and at times resulted in enthusiastic responses from several students at the same time. This made it hard for both the teacher and students to fully hear the responses. It is best practice that questioning be mostly directed to named students as this will avoid chorus responses. This approach also allows students time to reflect on their answers, whilst ensuring that all students can fully hear the responses.


Classrooms were bright and attractive and most displayed a variety of relevant SPHE and student-generated material. The display of student work is highly commendable, as it is affirming of the studentsí efforts and engagement in the subject, whilst also promoting the key concepts of the subject in a relevant and visually stimulating manner.†


In all cases, teachers moved around the classroom to ensure that students were on task and to provide advice and assistance to individuals or groups when necessary. There was a good orderly approach to classroom management and when required, students moved desks and positions expediently and without prompting. There was a very good code of behaviour established in all classes which resulted in a positive and affirming learning environment. Teachers were sensitive and caring and afforded students many opportunities to share their experiences, which were both affirming and enjoyable for all involved. A good rapport has been developed between students and their teachers and all interactions were characterised by mutual respect.


Students were appropriately challenged and motivated by most classroom activities and their engagement and enthusiasm for the subject was high. Students were well able to communicate and rationalise their opinions when questioned by the inspector and spoke confidently about the themes explored during their SPHE lessons.†


In most cases, lessons concluded by summarising the main points of the lesson and outlining the topics to be covered in the next lesson, which is in keeping with good practice.



Good records of studentsí attendance in class are maintained by all teachers. Retention of studentsí work takes place mostly through completion of worksheets in the studentsí text books. These books are safely stored in the teachersí filing cabinet which is good practice as some material may be of a sensitive and personal nature and should be securely stored to maintain confidentiality.


There are a range of approaches to assessment in SPHE in the school. Some self and peer-assessment tools are used as part of the teaching and learning process to promote student reflection on the themes and issues discussed in their SPHE lessons. Students also complete worksheets in class and undertake project work at times throughout their SPHE course. In addition, class-based exercises are completed in their textbook which provides a record of the themes and topics discussed in class. It is commendable that some home tasks are assigned to students that involve discussion with their parents or guardians. This good practice helps to stimulate conversations between family members around social and personal issues.


There is scope for the further development of the assessment process for SPHE. Some additional strategies could be developed and implemented to complement and expand the existing modes of assessment. For example, assessment for learning strategies including reflective journals and the completion of self-assessment profile and progress sheets may be used, when appropriate. Student generated material may be stored in plastic envelopes and securely retained in the teachersí filing cabinets. Students could then select a compilation of their work to present as a portfolio of learning. This portfolio may form the basis for evaluative comments on studentsí 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). In addition, the NCCA website contains useful information on assessment for learning, which teachers may find beneficial.


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 presently not included on the report forms sent home to parents. However, it is planned that the subject would be included in the near future. It is commendable that the SPHE department has spent some time deliberating on the qualitative comments that should be included in the electronic database to adequately reflect students learning. It is recommended that the planned inclusion of SPHE on the school reports to home be implemented as soon as possible and that comments used by teachers provide meaningful statements of learning and attainment in the subject.


Students learning and development through SPHE is facilitated by a caring and affirming approach and there was good evidence that students are achieving well in the subject.†



Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

         SPHE benefits from a positive and supportive whole-school climate, where the subject is firmly established on the junior cycle curriculum. SPHE related co- and extra-curricular activities are well promoted throughout the school.

         Strong links have been established between the both the pastoral care team and guidance department and the SPHE department and programme.

         A core team of experienced teachers deliver the SPHE programme in the school. There is very good support for the continuing professional development of all members of the subject department.

         The process and procedures for developing, ratifying, implementing and reviewing school policies relevant to SPHE are in keeping with good practice. Review and reflection form part of the SPHE planning process.

         The SPHE department has scheduled meeting time to work together to review and plan the programme of work.

         The programme of work for junior cycle is consistent with the syllabus and follows the framework recommended in the Guidelines for Teachers. Considerable progress has been made in the planning of the SPHE programme. †

         The SPHE department has compiled a comprehensive list of available resources, which are centrally stored and easily accessible for all teachers of the subject.

         There is a good standard of teaching and learning of SPHE in Loreto High School.

         All lessons were well structured and paced to suit the ability and level of the students.

         A good range of teaching strategies was used to enhance studentsí learning and was effective in providing students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning.

         Teachers were sensitive and caring of their students and a good rapport has been developed between students and their teachers. Teaching and learning took place in a positive and affirming environment.

         SPHE teachers attend all parent-teacher meetings.



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

         Consideration should be given to providing some of the senior cycle RSE modules in fifth-year.

         It is recommended that the role of SPHE coordinator be rotated at regular intervals.

         Consideration should be given to timetabling one of the junior cycle year groups concurrently for SPHE.

         The planned programme of work for SPHE should be expanded into a more detailed three-year programme for junior cycle.

         The further development of the assessment process for SPHE is recommended.

         It is recommended that the planned inclusion of SPHE on the school reports sent home to parents be implemented as soon as possible.


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.





Published December 2008