An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta 

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of

Social Personal and Health Education



Coláiste Phádraig

Lucan, County Dublin

Roll number: 60264A


Date of inspection: 31 January 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 as part of a whole school evaluation in Coláiste Phádraig, Lucan. 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 subject teachers.



Subject provision and whole school support


In Coláiste Phádraig, Lucan, SPHE benefits from appropriate subject provision and a supportive school environment. Each junior cycle class is timetabled in line with the requirements of circular M11/03. In the current school year, a team of eight teachers delivers the programme; consequently some teachers have up to three class groups for the subject. These teachers do not yet identify themselves as a department. This is understandable as not all are experienced teachers of the subject and are more involved with their other subject departments.


There is a positive attitude amongst the team and it is clear that they are committed to the rationale for SPHE. In terms of continuity for students, it is recommended that every effort be made to establish a core team for SPHE, and particularly to ensure that teachers would remain with the same class group through the full three-year cycle. In addition, it is essential that all teachers, as far as possible, be assigned as teachers of SPHE by consultation.


Teachers’ attendance at in-service training offered by the SPHE support service has been supported by management. However, at the time of this evaluation, discussions with the team indicated that some members have not yet had the opportunity to avail of any in-service training. It is good to note that the teachers have identified their own training needs. It is particularly important that teachers who are new to the subject should avail of the two-day Introduction Training provided by the SPHE support service. It is recommended that this issue be pursued and that a review of teachers’ training needs be an ongoing part of subject development planning.


The school makes some efforts to inform and involve parents who are notified in advance of the delivery of the relationships and sexuality education (RSE) module at senior cycle. This is good practice. Parents of junior cycle students should now receive similar notification. To date, the school has not developed an RSE policy in accordance with the requirements of circulars M4/95 and M20/96, and as outlined in the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools (Section IV, Rule 20). It is highly recommended that the board, through collaboration with senior management, staff and parents, through the parents’ association, ensure the development of this policy at the earliest opportunity.


Planning and preparation


Management is very supportive of collaborative planning and facilitates formal subject department meetings during the school year but such times have yet to be optimised by the SPHE team. Co-ordination of the subject has now been allocated to a staff member who is not currently teaching SPHE and the SPHE teachers have not yet begun to plan their work collaboratively. The school intends to resolve this matter in due course.  


Subject department planning in SPHE is at a very early stage. It is recommended that all teachers in the SPHE department now collaborate regarding the development of a three-year plan which should include the organisational details in relation to the subject, lists of modules to be covered in each year and the desired student learning outcomes. It is also recommended that the lists of modules in the subject plan be 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. The exemplar programme outlines and the templates in the SPHE Guidelines for Teachers (pages 7–20) should 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.


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. Some teachers presented individual planning documents that outlined the content to be covered for the year. There were also some very good examples of teachers keeping records of work covered to date; this is commended and encouraged. No links have yet been established between the SPHE team and the guidance counsellor in relation to the planning and delivery of the subject. This is important and such collaboration should inform planning within both departments. Commendably, there was evidence of established links between SPHE and Religion particularly in the delivery of the RSE module. Outside speakers are also brought into the school to complement the work of the teachers.


Some resources and support materials are available but there is a need to establish a central storage area that will make 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 SPHE teachers, and particularly new team members, know what is available. It is suggested that, as part of planning, posters of subject related materials be obtained and displayed in classrooms.




Teaching and learning


Short-term planning for most lessons was good. 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. Commendably, they then 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 some of the teaching and learning strategies observed are in keeping with those recommended for the delivery of SPHE. The range of methodologies used 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 whiteboard, charts, handouts and worksheets, teaching and learning was supported by strategies such as brainstorming, pair work and group work, questioning, individual work, discussion and reflection. There was a particularly good example of the effective processing of feedback from group work during a lesson on study skills while the provision of quiet time for student reflection was very well handled in a lesson on feelings.


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. 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 most 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. In some cases, students’ contributions were of a high standard and this is to be commended. Classroom management in general was good and there were some examples of excellent management of students’ learning activities. It was noted that ground rules had not been agreed for any SPHE class. This is a useful strategy in order to establish a climate of trust and respect. Once agreed, a copy should be distributed to each student, signed and stored carefully. Ideally, ground rules should be displayed in all SPHE classes.


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 the inappropriate and loose management of group work activities in conjunction with the lack of time allocated for any discussion of the topic-at-hand. 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.


It was noted that in all lessons there was a consistent level of absenteeism combined with poor punctuality among some students due largely to participation in extra-curricular activities. If this trend continues, students will miss out on valuable educational experiences within SPHE. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that the board and senior management examine this phenomenon carefully as the impact on students’ learning is already quite substantial.





In some classes visited, it was evident that a system has been developed for students to file and store personal materials from the SPHE lessons; this took the form of a folder, or 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 very good practice is commended and it ensures that students and their parents have a tangible record of work and achievement for the year. It also provides a tool for assessment and it guarantees that students’ work, which might be of a personal nature, is not lost. Consideration might now be given to extending this practice throughout the SPHE department. It is commendable that resources have been devised by teachers which are tailored to the levels of ability of the students. Oral questioning was used in lessons to check understanding and to allow students express opinions. In some cases, students are given marks for worksheets and workbooks.


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 into 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 ( The inclusion of SPHE as part of the regular student progress reports will greatly assist in improving the profile of the subject while providing an additional tool for assessment.



Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         SPHE is timetabled for all junior cycle students.

·         There is good whole-school support for the subject.

·         Some progress has been made with subject planning.

·         Lessons had a clear purpose and the range of methodologies provided students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning.

·         There was a supportive learning atmosphere and effective use was made of student affirmation.

·         In some cases, a system has been developed for students to file and store personal materials.


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


·         Every effort should be made to establish a core team for SPHE, and particularly to ensure that teachers would remain with the same class group through the full three-year cycle.

·         The subject plan should be further developed to include the organisational details in relation to the subject, lists of modules to be covered in each year and the desired student learning outcomes.

·         Discussions regarding classroom management strategies should form part of planning for the department.

·         A review of teachers’ training needs should be an ongoing part of subject development planning.



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 November 2008