An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
of Social, Personal and Health Education
Balbriggan Community College
Pineridge, County Dublin
Roll number: 70010V
Date of inspection: 26 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 21 June 2007
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 Balbriggan Community College, 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 three 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 the subject teachers.
In Balbriggan Community College, SPHE benefits from good subject provision and a very supportive school environment. Each junior cycle class is timetabled in line with the requirements of CL M11/03, with an additional period allocated for students following the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP).
In the current school year, a team of five teachers delivers the programme; consequently, some teachers have up to four class groups for the subject. Some team members have a number of years of experience in teaching the subject while others have joined the team this year. There is a spirit of enthusiasm and a positive attitude amongst the team and it is clear that they are committed to the rationale for SPHE. Contributing to the success of the current programme in the school is the fact that all of those teaching the subject have been assigned by consultation and management is commended in this regard. As far as possible, teachers retain classes for the duration of the three-year cycle. However, the school reports that it is necessary to have some movement of teachers to and from SPHE from year to year, depending on overall staffing requirements. In terms of continuity for students, it is recommended that every effort be made to retain a core team for SPHE, and particularly that teachers would remain with the same class group through the full three-year cycle. At the same time, there should be flexibility for new members to be invited to join the team, preferably beginning with a first year class group. In this way, there will be a focus on the development of a subject department identity, in addition to building capacity.
Management is very supportive of collaborative planning and facilitates formal subject department meetings during the school year. Co-ordination of the subject is rotated. In the current year, the subject is co-ordinated jointly by an experienced member and a new member of the team, thus further developing skills and sharing experience. Management encourages continuing professional development (CPD) and teachers are facilitated to attend the range of in-service offered by the SPHE Support Service. At the time of this evaluation, discussions with the team indicated that new members have not yet had the opportunity to avail of any in-service training. It is particularly important that teachers who are new to the subject should avail of the two-day Introduction Training. It is good to note that the team’s training needs have been identified and discussed at the subject planning meetings. It is recommended that this issue be pursued; a review of teachers’ CPD needs should be an ongoing part of subject development planning.
The school makes commendable efforts to inform and involve parents, particularly in the area of relationships and sexuality education (RSE). It is good practice that a letter is sent to parents in advance of the introduction of the RSE module. A very comprehensive RSE policy, developed by a committee representing all partners, is in place for a number of years and it is due for review in the current school year; this is commended.
Good progress has been made in planning. A subject department plan has been developed using the template provided by the School Development Planning Initiative and it is good to note that all team members have been involved. This document outlines the organisational details in relation to the subject and includes lists of modules to be covered in first and second year. It is laudable that the SPHE syllabus is used as a framework in planning the programme, whilst allowing flexibility to meet the needs of the current cohort of students.
Evidence provided during the evaluation indicates that each teacher is responsible for determining the content of the programme for their particular class or year group, based on the agreed lists of modules. Teachers presented individual planning documents that outlined the content to be covered on a week-by-week basis. Some of these planning documents were of a very high standard, focusing on the specific learning outcomes, methodologies and resources related to each lesson. There were also some very good examples of teachers keeping records of work covered to date; this is commended and encouraged. While acknowledging that agreed lists of modules for first and second year have been included in the subject plan, it is difficult to get an overall depiction of the topics or content that is covered under each module in each year group, and for the three year cycle as a whole, without resorting to teachers’ individual planning documents. As an example, in the subject plan, physical health is listed as a module for first year, but there is no indication of what aspects of physical health are covered in any particular year.
It is recommended that the lists of modules in the subject plan should be further developed to outline the topics to be covered from each module in first, second and third year, on a term-by-term basis. This should be presented as one coherent document to provide an overview of the content of the school’s SPHE programme for the entire three-year junior cycle. This will avoid a “hit and miss” approach and ensure that key aspects of a module are not omitted unintentionally particularly when a class group has a change of teacher from year to year. In addition, modules can be revisited without becoming repetitive over the three-year cycle, thus ensuring a spiral and developmental approach to the delivery of the SPHE programme. Teachers’ individual planning documents and the handbooks that have been developed for teachers and students will be very useful in the compilation of this document. The exemplar programme outlines and the templates in the SPHE Guidelines for Teachers (pages 7–20) should also be useful. This process will still allow teachers the flexibility to tailor the programme of a particular year group to meet the individual needs of their class.
Good links have been established between the SPHE team and the guidance counsellor in relation to planning and delivery of the subject. A noteworthy initiative is the anti-bullying training provided for the senior prefects. They then work with first year class groups, in conjunction with the SPHE teacher, in the area of bullying prevention, as part of the module on belonging and integrating. During the evaluation, there was evidence of some very good cross-curricular planning between SPHE and Home Economics, particularly with the JCSP students.
It is commendable that a range of resources and support materials for all aspects of the subject are stored in a press in the staff room, making them easy to access and readily available to all team members. As time goes on and further resources are added, it would be worthwhile cataloguing the resources, so that all members, and particularly new team members know what is available. Commendably, a number of teachers have been involved in the collation of materials and resources to produce a teachers’ handbook and an accompanying students’ workbook for first and second year students.
Short term planning for all lessons was very good and in many cases, teachers provided a written outline of the lesson indicating the sequence, methodologies and resources to support teaching and learning, as well as cross-curricular links. This careful attention to short-term planning resulted in lessons that had a clear purpose and were generally well structured. In some cases, teachers set the lesson in context by reminding students of the previous week’s work. They then, commendably, shared the learning objectives of the lesson with the students and at the end of the lesson returned to the objectives to summarise learning before closing with a reference to what would be covered in the subsequent lesson. This is excellent practice and provides a focus and structure for students.
There is no doubt that many of the teaching and learning strategies observed are in keeping with those recommended for the delivery of SPHE. The range of methodologies provided students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning. This approach to teaching and learning is commended and is in line with some of the aims of SPHE, two of which are “to promote self-esteem and self-confidence and to provide opportunities for reflection and discussion”. As well as teacher instruction and the use of the overhead projector, the whiteboard, charts, handouts and worksheets, teaching and learning was supported by strategies such as brainstorming, case studies, pair work and group work, peer-tutoring, questioning, individual work, project work, discussion and reflection. There was a particularly good example of the effective processing of feedback from group work during a lesson on self-esteem, while the provision of quiet time for student reflection was very well handled in a lesson on parent-teen relationships.
Student engagement was at its best when the teacher acted as facilitator, when students were given clear instructions and when the lesson was accompanied by well planned and effectively used methodologies. It is suggested that, when planning for and choosing methodologies, consideration should always be given to how the methodology can be used so that the learning objectives of the lesson are attained. Opportunities to share good practice amongst the team, in relation to the use of methodologies and resources, could be considered as part of the team’s subject planning meetings.
In all of the lessons observed, there was a very supportive learning atmosphere and good relationships had been established between students and their teachers. Effective use was made of student affirmation and students’ contributions were warmly welcomed. Classroom management in general was good and there were some examples of excellent management of students’ learning activities. In some cases, teachers reminded students of the ground rules, which had been agreed for the SPHE class, in order to establish a climate of trust and respect; this is commended. In quite a number of classes, there were between twenty-seven and thirty students for SPHE and the amount of classroom space available was not always conducive to some of the more active methodologies such as group work. In a minority of cases, there was some low level disruption that included small groups of students engaging in incessant talk that was unrelated to the activities of the lesson and students shouting questions and answers during lessons in a form of attention-seeking behaviour. In some cases, the level of noise tolerated was not conducive to teaching and learning. In the interests of the majority of students and in order that teaching and learning can continue without interruption, it is recommended that, where necessary, classroom management strategies be reviewed. Some sharing of practice in this area, and perhaps at a whole-school level, might be useful.
In all classes visited it was evident that a system has been developed for students to file and store personal materials from the SPHE lessons; this either takes the form of a folder, a copybook, a student workbook or a combination of these. The materials are generally stored securely in the classroom and are distributed to students at the beginning of each lesson. This excellent practice is commended and it ensures that students and their parents have a tangible record of work and achievement for the year, it provides a tool for assessment and it guarantees that students’ work, which might be of a personal nature, is not left lying aimlessly around the classroom.
Some opportunities are provided for assessment of learning and assessment for learning, although this practice varies somewhat between teachers. Oral questioning is used in lessons to check understanding and to allow students express opinions. In some cases, students are given marks or grades for project work, worksheets, posters or individual work in copybooks. Material in student folders is regarded as personal and is used by the students themselves to reflect on their own learning.
The sharing of practice in relation to the forms of assessment used by different teachers, and particularly assessment for learning, could be included in discussions at subject department meetings. Planning for the assessment of students’ progress should always be incorporated with planning for teaching and learning. Student reflection and self-assessment could inform programme planning and review of teaching and learning. Further information and advice on assessment in SPHE is available in the Guidelines for Teachers (pages 59-68) and from the SPHE Support Service. In addition, information on assessment for learning is available on the NCCA website (www.ncca.ie).
It is laudable that the school reports to parents on students’ progress in SPHE as part of the regular student progress reports; this generally takes the form of a comment from the teacher about students’ progress in the subject.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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.