An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Social, Personal and Health Education
Fingal Community College
Swords, County Dublin
Roll number: 70121H
Date of inspection: 9 April 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 Fingal Community College, Swords 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) in the junior cycle 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, deputy principal and subject teachers.
In Fingal Community College, Swords, SPHE benefits from good subject provision and a supportive school environment. Each junior cycle class is timetabled in line with the requirements of Circular Letter M11/03. In the current school year, a team of six teachers delivers the programme. Since this includes the guidance counsellor, there is close collaboration between the guidance and SPHE departments and this is mutually beneficial. Most teachers have two class groups for SPHE. The current SPHE team was formed in September 2007 although many of the current teachers had taught SPHE previously. There is a spirit of enthusiasm and a positive attitude amongst team members and it is clear that they are committed to the philosophy underpinning junior cycle SPHE. It is commendable that all those teaching the subject have been assigned by consultation. Efforts have been made to ensure that teachers retain classes for the duration of the three-year cycle. This is in keeping with recommended practice.
Management encourages and supports continuing professional development and teachers are facilitated to attend the range of in-service offered by the SPHE support service. All SPHE teachers have attended the two-day Introduction Training and the majority have attended the Continuation Training. Other courses which have been attended include Mental Health, Substance Use and Bullying. The commitment and dedication of all teachers to their continuing professional development is acknowledged and commended.
All SPHE resources are securely stored in a classroom but this means that teachers have restricted access to them when the room is in use for lessons. As space becomes available, consideration might be given to the provision of a storage facility that is accessible to all teachers at all times. These resources are meticulously catalogued and clearly documented in the SPHE plan. This is very good practice.
School development planning is ongoing in Fingal Community College. The Relationships and Sexuality Education policy (RSE) is currently at draft stage and this document has been circulated to parents for discussion at an information evening which will be held. No planning is yet in place for the delivery of an RSE module within junior cycle SPHE or for senior cycle students. As a matter of priority and to comply with Circular Letter 0027/2008, the board and senior management must ensure that the RSE policy is progressed and that an RSE module is provided within junior cycle SPHE and for senior cycle students.
The SPHE department is very effectively co-ordinated by one teacher, who operates in a voluntary capacity. The commitment and dedication to this role was very evident during the evaluation. In order to ensure a more even distribution of workload among all members, it is recommended that this role be rotated among all members of the team.
Formal subject planning occurs at set times throughout the year. The SPHE department reports that it is difficult to meet at these planning times due to commitments to other subject departments. It is recommended that management should ensure that time is made available for the SPHE department to meet on these, or other, formal occasions. The SPHE teachers meet regularly at non-class contact time for subject planning purposes. This commitment by teachers is commended. Currently, the co-ordinator takes the minutes of such meetings. It is suggested that all members of the SPHE team should assume this role in turn.
A comprehensive plan has been developed and this includes the organisational details of the SPHE department. This plan indicates that there is a spiral and developmental approach in the SPHE programmes in accordance with syllabus guidelines. It is clear that all teachers follow this plan meticulously. Some teachers maintain a record of work covered and this good practice could now be extended to all. To date, individual written schemes of work have not been developed. It is important that all teachers would develop such schemes, which should include the methodologies, the modes of assessment and those resources that will be used. This will further ensure that the department plan is tailored to suit the needs of individual classes and lead to further collaboration within the SPHE department.
Short-term planning for most lessons was very good. During the evaluation, this careful attention to short-term planning resulted in lessons that had a clear purpose and were generally well structured. In all 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 approach benefits learning as it provides both a focus and a structure for students.
Commendably, many of the teaching and learning strategies observed were those specifically recommended for the delivery of SPHE. The range of methodologies provided students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning. As well as teacher instruction, use was made of the overhead projector, information and communications technology (ICT), the whiteboard, charts, handouts and worksheets. The teaching and learning observed were also supported by strategies such as brainstorming, case studies, pair work and group work, questioning, individual work, discussion and reflection.
Student engagement was at its best when lessons were not teacher-led, when the teacher acted as facilitator and students were actively involved. This was evident in a lesson observed on subject choices. The objective of this lesson was for students to learn about the content of subjects in senior cycle. Through active methodologies, students in groups summarised their newly acquired knowledge on charts, which they then presented to the class group. Throughout the lesson, students were enthusiastic and interested in the task at hand. In a second lesson, students were actively involved in a lesson on first aid where, for example, they were required to make a bandage for one of their peers. In a third lesson on healthy eating, students were required to form a food pyramid, which they had previously analysed and discussed from their textbook. The levels of enthusiasm were very evident for these activities and the learning was good. Opportunities to share good practice amongst team members, in relation to the use of methodologies, should be considered as part of the team’s subject development planning.
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 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. This was largely due to inappropriate seating arrangements. In some cases, the level of noise tolerated was not conducive to teaching and learning. In the interests of the majority of students and to enable teaching and learning to continue without interruption, it is recommended that, where necessary, classroom management strategies should be reviewed. Some sharing of practice in this area might be useful.
In all classes visited, systems have 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 is very good practice is as 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 around the classroom.
Oral questioning is used in lessons to check understanding and to allow students express opinions. Although material in student folders is regarded as personal it is recommended that students’ work, where appropriate, should be checked periodically and a record kept of their efforts. The sharing of practice in relation to the forms of assessment used, particularly assessment for learning approaches, could be included in discussions at subject department meetings. Planning for the assessment of students’ progress should always be an integral part of planning for teaching and learning. Student reflection and self-assessment could be a very useful way of informing programme planning and any review of teaching and learning that might be undertaken. 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).
Currently, the school does not report to parents on students’ progress in SPHE when student progress reports are issued. It is recommended that the school considers including space for students’ progress and achievement in SPHE on report cards. It is essential that the SPHE department agrees on common approaches to assessment and on assessment criteria prior to the introduction of SPHE on school reports.
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 and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published January 2009