An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Social, Personal and Health Education
Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School
Blanchardstown, Dublin 15
Roll number: 91316Q
Date of inspection : 24 September 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 Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in SPHE (including Relationships and Sexuality Education) 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 teachers of SPHE.
There is a long tradition of providing for the social and personal development of students in Pobalscoil Éanna, Blakestown Community School. Prior to the formal introduction of the junior cycle SPHE curriculum framework, the school provided a comprehensive pastoral care programme that was delivered during a weekly tutor period. The pastoral care system continues to be an integral component of the SPHE programme and plays an important role in assisting the school achieve its stated commitment of nurturing the academic and personal development of its students.
SPHE benefits from a very good level of provision. All junior cycle classes are timetabled for one class period per week in line with the requirements of Department circular letter M11/03. Leaving Certificate classes are timetabled for one weekly period of tutor time. A SPHE programme based of the principles of the draft SPHE Leaving Certificate curriculum framework is delivered during this time. Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is planned as an integral component of the SPHE programme in junior and senior cycle with some cross-curricular lines apparent. Students participating in the Leaving Certificate Applied programme are provided with dedicated class time for RSE as part of Social Education and Religious Education. This commendable level of provision complements the values espoused in the school motto of ‘education for living.’
In the case of one junior cycle class SPHE time is being used for circle time. The programme, which is facilitated by the guidance department, aims to develop student strategies to cope with challenging behaviours. At the time of the evaluation no timeframes for delivery of this programme had been agreed. It is recommended that the relationship between circle time and SPHE be reviewed. While the potential of circle time is acknowledged it should not replace the provision of a broad and balanced SPHE programme delivered through a variety of teaching approaches. Where circle time is being used to facilitate some modules of the SPHE programme this needs to be addressed in the planning documentation of the SPHE and guidance departments.
Year heads and class tutors are recognised as important elements of the pastoral care system. The teaching of SPHE generally forms part of class tutor duties. Teachers are assigned to this role by consultation and display a commendable level of willingness and generosity to take up the role. In the current year thirteen teachers of SPHE, almost all of whom are class tutors, deliver the junior cycle SPHE programme while six teachers deliver the senior cycle programme. This team is led effectively by a SPHE co-ordinator. There is a very high level of commitment and enthusiasm among the SPHE team for the implementation of a holistic SPHE programme. Management makes a deliberate effort to ensure that tutors retain their class group for the duration of the junior or senior cycle programme. This good practice supports a positive learning climate for SPHE. However, it was reported that the practice of assigning class tutors as teachers of SPHE presents some challenges. SPHE time is normally regarded as tutor time, a practice that has evolved in the school from the former pastoral care system. The class tutor role carries significant duties and it was reported that these duties can, in certain instances, impact negatively on the time available to deliver a broad and balanced SPHE programme. It is recommended that this issue be carefully monitored by management, especially in the context of junior cycle classes who are required to have one class period of dedicated SPHE time per week. If class tutor duties are adversely affecting SPHE time, management could consider separating the teaching of SPHE from the role of class tutor and establishing a smaller core team of SPHE teachers.
There is a commendable level of expertise evident among the SPHE team. Management is very supportive of teachers’ requests to attend continuous professional development (CPD) courses. A systematic and incremental approach is evident in the procedures adopted for upskilling the SPHE team. The work of the co-ordinator in effectively facilitating this work is laudable. There has been a very good level of engagement with a wide range of CPD to enhance the co-ordination and planning as well as the teaching and learning of SPHE. This very good practice contributes positively to the quality of implementing a holistic SPHE programme. Due to the large number of teachers involved in the delivery of SPHE and to support the collective upskilling of the group, consideration should be given to storing a copy of the information supplied at each SPHE in-service course attended in a dedicated folder in the resource room. This would ensure that the information is easily accessible to each member of the team and can be referred to as the need arises.
The social and personal development programme in Blakestown demonstrates good flexibility to meet the changing needs of students. This is laudable practice. A number of whole-school activities organised in conjunction with other school personnel effectively create a whole-school climate for the SPHE programme. It is commendable that the school has well-established links with local community groups to enhance the implementation of the SPHE programme. Activities such as the Rainbows programme and events organised in the areas of healthy eating, physical activity, anti-bullying, first aid, self esteem and substance use support the work in SPHE lessons. Clear procedures in relation to the use of visiting speakers have been documented in the SPHE policy. This is very good practice.
There are very good facilities and a very good range of resources available to support the teaching and learning of SPHE. A dedicated SPHE resource room was set up this year to facilitate the systematic storage of, and shared access to, all resources. It is particularly commendable that the resources are methodically filed in year-group categories to assist teachers in choosing additional resources that are age-appropriate. This is very good practice. Management is very supportive of requests made to update the resources and equipment for SPHE. An inventory of all the available resources is compiled and included in the SPHE subject plan. This is good practice. The work of the SPHE co-ordinator in setting up the SPHE resource room is acknowledged and commended.
It was noted positively that parents are provided with information about the SPHE programme at parent information evenings. In addition, articles and photographs related to SPHE activities are featured regularly in the school magazine Newslink. These very good practices contribute positively to the profile of SPHE in the school.
There is a collaborative spirit evident in the work of the SPHE team. Year heads and class tutors from each year group hold a weekly meeting. Discussion regarding subject planning for SPHE routinely forms part of the agenda. The co-ordinator rotates around each year head and tutor meeting to discuss issues of concern. Very good records are kept by the co-ordinator of key decisions made at these meetings. Such meetings provide an ideal forum to discuss the day-to-day issues regarding the implementation of the SPHE programme. To enhance this good practice and facilitate the continuous process of long-term subject planning and programme evaluation on a collaborative basis, it is recommended that management provide some formal time for subject department meetings of the SPHE team. This could be done as part of the established calendar of subject department meetings.
There is a very well-organised SPHE department in the school led by a very committed and experienced SPHE co-ordinator. The position of SPHE co-ordinator forms part of an assistant principal’s post of responsibility. A number of other duties are also attached to this post. An outline of the duties of the co-ordinator was provided during the course of the evaluation. These duties include actively facilitating the sharing of SPHE resources, providing information to parents on SPHE, developing programmes of work for each year group, compiling resource folders for each teacher of SPHE, organising co-curricular activities for SPHE, organising CPD for the SPHE team as well as keeping records on SPHE matters from each year head and tutor group meeting. This work, which is carried out in a very efficient manner, has been of huge assistance to the SPHE teaching team in supporting the work in classrooms. Due to other work commitments the co-ordinator has not been in a position to teach the SPHE programme in the last five years. In recognising the significant challenges involved in co-ordinating a subject that one is not teaching, and in light of the onerous workload involved in this and other aspects of the post, it is recommended that co-ordination of SPHE should be reviewed. Good practice would suggest that the subject co-ordinator should be assigned to teach at least one SPHE class. Consideration therefore could be given to appointing assistant co-ordinators for junior and senior cycle SPHE, perhaps on a rotating basis, from amongst the SPHE teaching team. Such personnel could assist the post-holder with overall responsibility for co-ordination. This would support the development of a team approach, reduce the workload involved in co-ordination and facilitate other members of the SPHE team to assume a leadership role in the continued development of the subject in the school.
A comprehensive subject plan and a whole-school policy for SPHE have been developed. Common programmes of work have been drawn up for junior and senior cycle SPHE and are included in the subject plan. These programmes are in line with syllabus requirements. The junior cycle plan is at an advanced stage of development and demonstrates a good balance across the ten modules of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) SPHE curriculum framework. This should be used as a model for the further development of the senior cycle plan. It is commendable that the various SPHE modules are re-visited over the three-year programme thus promoting a spiral and developmental approach to the development of students’ knowledge, attitudes and skills. Resource folders have been compiled by the co-ordinator for first, second and third year. These folders outline some learning objectives and include suitable resource material for each module. These resources are updated and reviewed regularly by the co-ordinator. At the start of each academic year the co-ordinator provides a resource pack containing the planned programme of work and relevant support materials to all teachers of SPHE. It is commendable the each teacher is provided with a review form to reflect on the success of the planned programme and is surveyed at the end of the year to establish what work was carried out. This level of commitment to programme planning is commended.
Planning by its nature is always work in progress and will always demonstrate room for further advancement and review. Therefore the subject department meetings, as previously recommended, should be used as a forum for the teaching team to collaboratively review each programme of work. On a phased basis each programme of work should be re-examined. Using teachers’ experiences in implementing the programme, particular focus should be placed on ensuring that the planned learning outcomes over the duration of the junior and senior cycle programme demonstrate a coherent and balanced coverage of SPHE themes and topics. These learning outcomes should be incorporated into the main planning template and should focus on the behaviours and attitudes to be acquired as well as levels of knowledge and understanding. In instances where cross-curricular approaches are used to facilitate particular interventions, such as circle time, it is recommended that school planning documentation should outline the specific SPHE modules that will be covered, specific time allocation, and students’ expected learning outcomes. This work should be undertaken on a phased basis, perhaps taking senior cycle and one junior cycle year-group plan per annum.
A number of whole-school policies in the areas of substance use, anti-bullying and SPHE has been developed. A commendable level of consultation has informed the development of these policies. The RSE policy, which has been in existence since 1998, has been prioritised for review by the SPHE team. To ensure compliance with the requirements of Department of Education and Science circular letter 27/08, it is recommended that the board of management, through collaboration with senior management, relevant staff, parents and students make provision for the development of an updated RSE policy in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Department of Education and Science. These guidelines can be downloaded from the education personnel section of the Department of Education and Science website at www.education.ie.
There was some very good quality individual teacher planning, preparation and review of lessons observed during the course of the evaluation. In one instance the common programme of work was developed further and the learning outcomes tailored to meet the needs of the individual class group. This is very good practice. Each teacher has a resource folder for their assigned class. In many instances detailed learning outcomes for each topic were developed for individual classes. It was noted positively that some teachers use the review form provided by the co-ordinator to reflect personally on the success of each class. These very good practices are encouraged further. The outcomes of this level of individual planning and reflection should inform the continued development of the common programmes of work.
A range of junior cycle SPHE lessons was observed during the course of the evaluation. There was evidence of very good quality short-term planning for lessons. All of the lessons observed were consistent with the common programme of work. The topics featured in lessons were appropriate to the time of year. In a number of instances, written lesson plans were provided detailing the expected learning outcomes, teaching strategies and resources for the lesson. This excellent practice proved very effective in ensuring the prepared lesson was well structured and paced at a level that was appropriate to students’ abilities and experiences. Best practice was evident in lessons where a variety of teaching strategies was used to facilitate students in engaging with and reflecting on the key concepts of the lesson.
The aim or topic of each lesson was shared with students from the outset. In some cases this strategy was developed further by sharing key learning objectives with students. This strategy worked best in instances where the outcomes were framed in terms of what the students themselves would be doing and why. This very good practice is encouraged. To enhance this strategy further it is recommended that the learning outcomes are revisited at the end of the lesson. This would consolidate students’ learning and facilitate further opportunities for student reflection and self-evaluation, which is a key principle underpinning the aims of the SPHE syllabus.
In the lessons observed there was very good continuity with prior learning. This is very good practice in a SPHE context where lessons are delivered in one class period per week. Teacher instruction was clear, accurate and contextualised. Deliberate efforts were made to enhance students’ understanding and facilitate the development of positive attitudes and behaviours in relation to the topics under discussion.
In keeping with best practice for teaching and learning in SPHE, many opportunities were provided for students to acquire knowledge and understanding, as well as assist them to reflect on behaviours, attitudes and values. This was done in a variety of ways. Additional resources such as a case study, quizzes, games and handouts were used to good effect to allow students, either individually or in pairs, to reflect on, apply or respond to the material being taught. It is commendable that teachers provided clear instructions for completing these activities and that a commendable emphasis was placed on students’ literacy development in a manner that enhanced understanding and assisted purposeful engagement. Where necessary the class teacher circulated around the classroom to provide individual help in a supportive manner. Student learning from such activities was maximised in instances where adequate time was given to complete the activity, when student feedback was taken, and key points of information summarised on the board. Group work or pair work was a key strategy used in some of the lessons observed. This strategy is particularly useful in encouraging students to share ideas and reflect on the key concepts of the lesson. Best practice in the management of group work was evident in instances where the activity was time bound, group members were assigned key roles to complete the task, and where there was a reporting back phase followed by effective processing of the feedback to ensure that learning had occurred. In some lessons, the use of probing and higher-order questioning proved particularly effective when processing the information. This very good practice is encouraged.
The good practice of taking a roll call was noted in all lessons. Some very good strategies are used to promote positive behaviour in lessons. In one lesson observed a class star system was used, while a quality class profile system was in place with another group. Such practices are commended as a means of encouraging and recognising positive behaviours. In order to support SPHE lessons, it is particularly commendable that ground rules have been drawn up and that a collective ownership of the rules is encouraged. The calm manner that teachers used to deal with a small number of challenging behaviours was noted positively. Consistent enforcement of the SPHE ground rules will further promote a classroom environment that is conducive to effective learning in SPHE lessons.
Students are assigned base classrooms, yet the SPHE team is commended for the efforts made to generate a dedicated space to display SPHE material. Colourful wall displays of class logos, posters of class goals and agreed rules for SPHE served to create a stimulating learning environment and establish a sense of shared student ownership in the creation of an attractive learning environment.
An agreed system has been developed for students to store and file information from their SPHE class. In some instances students retain the same folder from first year through to third year. This good practice is encouraged across all class groups. Due to the integrated and holistic nature of the SPHE programme, students may need to reflect back on work covered in previous years.
There are three elements of assessment in SPHE: student review and reflection, feedback to students and reporting to parents. Some good practice in all of the three elements was evident during the course of the evaluation. Observation of student folders indicates that students are regularly provided with opportunities to reflect on the material covered in SPHE lessons. One particularly good strategy is used in some classes where students keep a reflective diary where they list one thing that they learned in each SPHE lesson. In another class visited students were completing learning targets for two areas of SPHE as part of their participation in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). In addition, a cross-curricular learning target was rooted in SPHE and English. This is very good practice. In some instances an occasional home task is assigned. This strategy is worth developing further as it has the added benefit of assisting in continuity of learning between classes. The further development of assessment in SPHE has been prioritised for this year. To build on the good work already evident, it is recommended that the SPHE team collectively review the range of assessment modes used to establish an agreed range of assessment tools that could be used with all class groups. It is important that these assessment tools are fully compatible with the aims and objectives of the SPHE syllabus. Further information and advice on assessment in SPHE is available in the NCCA SPHE Guidelines for Teachers pp59-68 and from the SPHE support service.
It is particularly laudable that the common programme of work includes class time to allow students to review a completed module of work. It is good practice that the outcomes of this valuable exercise inform the continued development of the SPHE programme in the school.
Teachers maintain good records of students’ attendance. In some instances detailed records are kept of the work completed with individual class groups. This very good practice is encouraged further to assist in an annual evaluation of each on the programme of work. Students receive feedback through affirmation and encouragement in lessons, recognition and celebration of achievement through in-school competitions and articles in Newslink and, in some instances, JCSP profiling. It is commendable that students’ progress in SPHE is reported to parents at the parent-tutor meetings. As assessment practices develop in SPHE, further consideration could be given to enhancing strategies for providing feedback and reporting to parents and students on their achievement in SPHE.
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.
Published, October 2009