An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Social Personal and Health Education



Rathdown School

Glenageary, County Dublin

Roll number: 60090Q


Date of inspection: 25 November 2008






Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations







Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in Rathdown School, Glenageary, 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 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.


Subject provision and whole school support


Rathdown School has a long tradition of providing for the social, personal and health education of students. Modules in health education were introduced in the school as early as 1986, and subsequent programmes such as the Substance Abuse Prevention Programme (SAPP) were included as they became available. Involvement in these programmes ensured that the school was well positioned for the implementation of the present SPHE syllabus. SPHE is a core subject for all junior cycle classes and the subject is provided in accordance with circular M11/03. It is commendable that the school also provides a weekly period of Personal Development for Transition Year (TY) students, which builds on students’ learning from their junior cycle SPHE programme.


Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is embedded as part of the SPHE programme in junior cycle as appropriate. Much of the senior cycle RSE programme is delivered as part of the TY personal development modules. At the time of the inspection, there was no formal delivery of RSE to fifth and sixth-year students. Management is aware of this deficit and reported that plans are in place to provide an RSE module to both year groups in the second term of the year. Once in place, all senior cycle students will be provided with RSE as outlined in circular letter 0027/08, which stresses that RSE policies and programmes should be implemented for all students from first year to sixth year. Providing the required tuition to students in all year groups will ensure that the subject material is developed in a progressive manner to support students in their knowledge and decision making as they mature through their school years.


The present RSE policy is dated and has been identified for review as a matter of priority by the SPHE department and school management. It is recommended that this process be expedited and that the updated RSE policy guide teachers in the treatment of spiritual and moral issues that may arise when teaching RSE. The RSE policy should reflect the core values and ethos of the school as outlined in the school’s mission statement. A policy template for RSE, including guidelines and a sample RSE policy are available on the website of the Department of Education and Science (, which the school might find useful. A collaborative and whole-school approach should be taken to the development of the revised RSE policy, with input from all partners including management, teachers, parents and students. The SPHE Support Service could also be availed of to assist the school in this process.


School policies have been developed, which are supported by the work of the SPHE department, including substance use and an anti-bullying charter. The anti-bullying charter provides a clear declaration of the rights and responsibilities of all school partners in preventing and identifying various forms of bullying. The child protection guidelines have been adopted and copies of the guidelines are available in the SPHE planning documents.


A supportive school climate for SPHE is evident in Rathdown School. Links have been established with the guidance and counselling department and SPHE teachers have opportunities to provide input into the pastoral care support structure as appropriate. A dedicated SPHE notice-board provides a useful mechanism to support the promotion of relevant events, information and student activities. In addition, special events are organised to support students’ learning within the school community. Such events include the organic week to promote healthy eating, suicide awareness to promote understanding of mental health, Aids Awareness week and special student-led assemblies that focus on topics relevant to student welfare. Students also participate in events that promote social awareness such as the harvest baskets initiative whereby students gather food and prepare hampers for people in need. The work of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) in organising talks for the general parent body which deal with many topics relevant to SPHE, such as drugs awareness, cyber-bullying and internet safety is also highly commendable.


A core team of three teachers is deployed to teach the subject. One teacher, who also acts as subject co-ordinator, is timetabled for the majority of SPHE lessons. It is recommended, if possible, that additional SPHE classes be timetabled for the other SPHE teachers to distribute the responsibility for the delivery of the programme more equitably. This would also increase these teachers’ engagement and experience of delivering the SPHE programme. 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. Management is fully supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development (CPD). It is highly commendable that SPHE teachers identify their training needs and regularly avail of the ongoing in-service programme provided by the SPHE Support Service.


A budget system is reported to work well for the purchase of resources to support teaching and learning in SPHE. An extensive array of resources including texts, educational packs, videos, DVDs and worksheets are stored in dedicated areas within the teachers’ resource rooms. This good practice ensures that all members of the SPHE department have easy access to the variety of materials in preparation for their lessons.


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. There is exemplary provision for information and communication technology (ICT) to support the work of teachers and students in the classroom. Teachers have access to a laptop and data projector and have the facility to access relevant online and stored visual displays and presentations. 


Planning and preparation


Planning for SPHE and the co-ordination of the subject are very well executed in this school.  Management facilitates formal planning meetings once per term. In addition, members of the SPHE departments have a common non-teaching period on their timetables, which is regularly used for “cluster” meetings. The opportunity for frequent meetings to discuss aspects related to the organisation and delivery of the SPHE programme is highly commended. Minutes are maintained of formal planning meetings and these indicate that there is a clear focus on the completion of tasks to progress planning and organisation for the subject. It is also commendable that planning meetings are used to discuss teaching methods best suited to each topic. Whilst the co-ordination of the subject is a fixed role in this school, consideration should be given to rotating this responsibility amongst all members of the SPHE department.


There is a well developed and comprehensive subject plan in place for SPHE. A mission statement specifies the aims of the SPHE programme and its contribution to the holistic education of students in the school. The overall objectives of the programme along with all aspects related to the organisation and delivery of the programme are clearly presented in the subject plan. The curriculum content of the SPHE plan reflects all aspects of syllabus and programme requirements. It is commendable that the SPHE department has referenced the inclusion of students with special educational needs and those from culturally diverse societies. In addition, a homework policy, assessment procedures and the range of teaching and learning methods best suited to promote experiential learning are also documented, all of which is good practice.  A comprehensive list of relevant websites is also included in the subject plan. The practice of including a picture of the homepages along with the web addresses increases teachers’ familiarity with each website.


Teachers follow a common programme of work and all ten modules are covered with each year group as recommended in the SPHE Guidelines for Teachers. The SPHE programme is presented in tabular form using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet which identifies the module and sub-topic on a weekly basis for each year group. This planning framework provides teachers with a user-friendly reference and clearly identifies how the programme is delivered in a coherent and progressive manner. To build on this good planning practice, it is recommended that key learning outcomes for each topic be included in the weekly planning framework. Learning outcomes should focus on behaviour, skills and attitudes as well as on the acquisition of knowledge and information. Extensive planning folders have been developed for each year group to support the delivery of the programme of work. Each module and sub-topic is presented with suggested resources to support students’ learning. This level of detailed planning is exemplary practice.


To facilitate the provision of RSE in senior cycle, as recommended in the first section of this report, it is recommended that a suitable and agreed RSE programme be developed for senior cycle students. In developing the programme, it is important that cognisance be taken of the present junior cycle RSE programme in order to ensure a consistent and developmental approach to the delivery of RSE in the school. The development and implementation of RSE at all levels should be informed by the school’s RSE policy.


It is commendable that some review of the SPHE programme and supporting resources takes place at subject department level. In addition, students complete a review of their learning in each module, which is very good practice. Consideration should be given to expanding the student review to seek their opinions regarding the relevance of the topic, their learning experiences and the suitability of the resources used for each module. This will provide informative feedback for teachers and help ensure that the SPHE programme continues to meet the interests and learning needs of students.


There is good liaison between the subject department and other subject areas identified in the subject plan. Identifying the specific modules and topics that are common to each subject area ensures that students’ learning may be reinforced in a structured and coherent manner. The further expansion of these links to include Physical Education is recommended. For example, issues such as substance abuse in sports, body image, self-esteem and the role of physical activity in promoting physical health and wellbeing may also be explored through the physical education programme.


Parents are informed of the SPHE programme through the school website and are also informed of the RSE programme and topics prior to their delivery. In keeping with good practice, parental consent is sought prior to teaching the RSE aspects of the SPHE programme. The use of email in this regard provides an efficient method for the dissemination of information and this mode of communication can also be used effectively to record parental consent. Arrangements for guest speakers are appropriate as the material relevant to the topic is covered with students prior to the arrival of the guest speaker. 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 role of guest speakers and how they support the SPHE programme should be included in the subject documentation.


The extensive array of support materials and resources are centrally stored, catalogued and available to all teachers of SPHE. A form is attached to each DVD and video which teachers complete to indicate the class group and the date used, which is good practice. Teachers have also selected and filed a variety of useful materials such as information leaflets and student handouts for classroom use as part of their own individual planning.


Teaching and learning


There is a good standard of teaching and learning in SPHE in this school. Lessons were well planned and the material covered was appropriate to the students’ age and ability. In the lessons observed, the topics covered were nutrition, relationships and substance use. Good procedures established by teachers at the beginning of lessons were noted and these ensured that roll-call was taken and students were settled expediently. In most cases, the content and expectations for students’ learning were clearly specified at the outset, which is good practice. Being explicit with the learning intentions at the outset can help students to remain more focused on their learning throughout the lesson. New material was introduced through a series of effective questioning and explanation, which helped to establish continuity with prior learning and with students’ knowledge and experience of the subject matter. 


Teachers used a good range of strategies to promote learning including brainstorming, questioning, self-reflection worksheets, pair work and circle time. These interactive methods provided students with much opportunity to express and rationalise their opinions, which is in keeping with the discursive nature of the subject. Much discussion arose from the resource material used by teachers. However in some cases, students may have benefited from more focused tasks, especially when whole class discussion was less effective in promoting learning. Whole-class discussion is a useful strategy when used to summarise key learning points and to develop consensus amongst the class group, and is most effective when students have had prior opportunities to acquire knowledge and to develop their attitudes and opinions. A greater use of task-based work in small groups may have been more effective and efficient in achieving the desired learning outcomes, in some cases. Teachers should endeavour to provide additional opportunities and space for students to acquire skills and attitudes, as well as information, which may positively influence behaviour. This may involve the greater use of the various experiential approaches to developing topics from self-reflection, pair work and small-group work, in addition to whole class strategies. In many instances, key points from the lessons were highlighted on the board, which is commended. Students should have the opportunity to record these key points in their copybooks.


Classrooms were bright and many included displays of students’ work, which is good practice as it serves to affirm their efforts and reinforces learning of relevant concepts. The room arrangements were well organised which ensured an orderly and participative learning environment. Classroom management was effective in all lessons and students were well behaved. There were good examples of drawing attention to the ground rules that had been agreed for the SPHE class and in particular, in emphasising the importance of maintaining respect for others during the classroom interactions, which is commended. In all lessons observed, the learning atmosphere was pleasant and supportive and a good rapport existed between students and their teacher. Students’ contributions were welcomed and, when used, affirmation of student efforts was positively received.


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.


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




An agreed subject department homework and assessment policy is implemented. Students have a textbook and keep a folder and a copybook for SPHE. The textbook is used as a reference and may also be used for assigning reflective tasks or homework. Teachers are judicious in their use of the textbook. The good practice of encouraging students to file their SPHE materials is commended as it ensures that students and parents have a visible record of their work and achievements at the end of each year.


A range of assessment strategies is used by teachers to determine students’ engagement and progress in SPHE. In addition to regular oral questioning, students are often required to complete work sheets, written assignments and engage in project work. Assessment for learning strategies have also been introduced and students complete self evaluation forms at the end of each module. This is good practice and encourages students to reflect on the quality of their engagement and the impact of their learning on their attitudes, decision-making and behaviours. The expansion and further development of the assessment for learning strategies is recommended. These strategies could contribute to the development of students’ portfolios of learning, which could in turn be used to form the basis of discussion at parent-teacher meetings regarding the level of student engagement in the topics being studied. Further information and advice on assessment in SPHE is available in the Guidelines for Teachers (pages 59-68) and from the SPHE Support Service. 


Communication with parents is maintained through email, the school journal and annual parent-teacher meetings for each year group. SPHE was previously included in school reports, but has been removed. It is recommended that this decision be revisited and that school reports include formative comments to affirm students’ engagement and learning in SPHE.

Rathdown School provides a caring and positive approach to students’ development through SPHE.

Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:


·         There is a supportive whole-school climate for SPHE, and SPHE is timetabled for one period per week in line with circular M11/03.

·         TY students are provided with a programme of personal development that supports and builds upon their learning in SPHE.  

·         SPHE-related materials and co-curricular activities are promoted in the school.

·         There is a committed, reflective and hardworking SPHE subject department in the school. The SPHE department is actively engaged with the SPHE

support service and there is good support for teachers’ professional development.

·         Planning for SPHE is well advanced and the coordination of the subject is well executed. The programme of work for junior cycle is consistent with the syllabus and

follows the framework recommended in the Guidelines for Teachers.

·         There is exemplary access to ICT resources to support planning and teaching and learning in SPHE.

·         An extensive array of resources has been compiled and meticulously catalogued by the SPHE department, which are easily accessible from a central storage area.

·         There is a good standard of teaching and learning of SPHE in Rathdown School.  

·         A range of effective teaching strategies was observed that provided students with opportunities to be actively engaged in their learning.

·         Lessons were characterised by a friendly and caring atmosphere, and a good rapport has been developed between students and their teachers.

·         Common assessment strategies are used by teachers to determine students’ engagement and progress in SPHE.

·         Parents are proactive in supporting the work of the SPHE department and several relevant presentations have been organised by the PTA.


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

·         It is recommended that a RSE programme for senior cycle be developed and provided for all senior cycle students as specified in circular letter 0027/08. This programme

should be guided by a revised RSE policy. 

·         The school’s anti-bullying charter should be expanded to form an anti-bullying policy document that includes the procedures for reporting, investigating and imposing

sanctions in the event of serious bullying incidents.

·         Consideration should be given to a more even distribution of SPHE classes to all SPHE teachers, where possible within the curricular constraints.

·         It is recommended that key learning outcomes for each topic be included in the planning framework spreadsheet.

·         It is recommended that consideration be given to the use of various approaches to developing students’ learning in SPHE.

·         It is recommended that students’ engagement and learning in SPHE be included in school reports to parents.  


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 October 2009