An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
Presentation College Athenry,
Roll number: 62870G
Date of inspection: 25-29 February 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Social Personal and Health Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation College, Athenry, 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 five 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.
There is a collaborative spirit and positive attitude amongst those involved in the organisation and delivery of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) at Presentation College Athenry. A number of factors contribute to the excellent whole-school support and resource provision for SPHE resulting in a very supportive school environment for the delivery of the subject. First, junior and senior cycle co-ordinators of SPHE have been appointed and these co-ordinators also teach SPHE. Secondly, in each year group the SPHE class is concurrently timetabled and this provides scope for the facilitation of a modular approach to the delivery of SPHE in addition to the facilitation of team meetings, the scheduling of guest speakers and inputs from the guidance counsellors. Thirdly, it is very good practice that teachers are assigned to SPHE by consultation and that gender balance amongst the team of teachers is excellent. Whilst many of the teachers are experienced in the delivery of the subject, it is laudable that new members are encouraged and supported to join the team, thus building capacity for the future. Fourthly, management endeavours where appropriate to allow teachers to retain their assigned class group from first year through to third year. This is commended as it enables a consistent pedagogical approach to be developed from year to year. Fifthly, the commitment from management to maintain SPHE classes at a small size is a positive feature and the generous deployment of teachers to SPHE is acknowledged and it facilitates the SPHE classes particularly well. Currently, twenty-five teachers are involved in the teaching of SPHE in junior cycle with some teachers having more than one class for SPHE.
A comprehensive “root and branch” review involving teachers, students and parents was recently undertaken by the junior cycle SPHE co-ordinator as a research project for her post-graduate studies in school development planning. Subsequently a rejuvenated programme for SPHE was developed and a model was designed to allow guidance personnel and the home-school liaison officer to rotate periodically into second and third year SPHE groups or to meet students individually as appropriate. This flexible model of provision is highly commendable in terms of the potential it has to meet the various needs of students. However, this model is currently not operating as effectively as it could and is therefore not reaching its full potential in terms of supporting students needs. It is recommended that management continue to monitor and review this model of provision so that students will receive the full potential benefits.
The SPHE programme is provided for all junior cycle students in accordance with the requirements of CL M11/03 and SPHE is on the curriculum at senior cycle for some students. Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is provided as an integral part of SPHE at junior cycle, and some aspects of RSE are delivered at senior cycle, however, there is scope for the development of a coherent module of RSE at senior cycle. This could be developed by the senior cycle SPHE coordinator in conjunction with senior management and the teachers involved. The school should therefore ensure that a comprehensive RSE programme is undertaken by all students in both junior and senior cycle in line with circular letters M4/95, M20/96 and the RSE Guidelines for post-primary schools.
As part of the whole-school approach to SPHE, the co-ordinator ensures close links are maintained with senior management, the care team, year heads, special needs team, guidance counsellors, the home-school liaison officer and the academic monitors. In addition other praiseworthy initiatives such as the mentoring programme and the school’s counselling service all support the SPHE programme very well. The SPHE programme is embedded in the pastoral care provision at the school and it has become an integral and significant part of school life. This is evident from the supportive school climate for SPHE and whole-school activities such as: the weekly care team meeting, regular year head meetings, the first-year induction programme, student council events, the awards day, student retreats, and the school musical, all of which support the SPHE programme. Management is very supportive of cross-curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular activities, planned for and organised by the SPHE teachers.
Management facilitates collaborative planning for SPHE through the provision of meeting time, throughout the year, as part of its commitment to school development planning. Whole-staff in-service has been provided by the SPHE support service in addition to whole-staff training around such areas as child protection, first aid and other SPHE related topics. The SPHE co-ordinator is also facilitated to address the whole staff with regard to SPHE matters. The Child Protection Guidelines have been adopted and a designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines devised by the Department of Education and Science. The SPHE co-ordinators and many of the teachers have attended the relevant CPD days provided by the SPHE support service. Management is committed to supporting the systematic and incremental training and up-skilling of teachers over time as appropriate. It is noted that the co-ordinator disseminates information on training available and maintains records of all training received by team members. School structures, systems and strategies support the SPHE teachers well when providing for students’ needs including those with special educational needs (SEN). The SPHE team has access to television, video/DVD and overhead projectors for classroom use when required.
Parents and students, through their representative groups, have had the opportunity to contribute to the development of policies in the following areas: RSE, SPHE, substance use policy, anti-bullying, pastoral care, code of behaviour and healthy eating. Such policies developed through consultation with the whole-school community support the SPHE programme well.
The planning process for the school’s SPHE programme provides many examples of best practice and is characterised by a strong commitment, and an organised collaborative approach. The SPHE co-ordinator meets with the entire SPHE subject department in May and in early September and subsequently meets with the SPHE teachers of each year group at least once a term to plan and discuss the term’s work. Agenda are decided in advance of department meetings and records of these meetings are recently being maintained. In addition, the SPHE teachers meet informally throughout the year for ongoing planning and review. The role of the junior cycle SPHE co-ordinator has recently been defined and this involves organising meetings, reporting to management, facilitation the sharing of resources, the co-ordination of SPHE training for teachers and co-ordinating planning and regular reviews into SPHE; this work is commendable. With regard to the role of senior cycle SPHE co-ordinator there is scope for this role to be more clearly defined.
A very good blend of experience and expertise is evident in the team of SPHE teachers and they are to be commended for their informal sharing of resources. As part of this collaborative approach, teachers are also encouraged to formalise the sharing of professional expertise, so that the good practices observed during the evaluation can be consolidated across the entire department. In addition, teachers are commended for their efforts made with regard to informal cross-curricular links. The development of more formal cross-curricular links with subjects such as Science, Home Economics, Physical Education (PE) and Religious Education (RE) is a stated intention of the teaching team.
As a result of the recent whole-school review into SPHE, action planning is ongoing, which is commendable and a subject plan based on the school development planning template is being developed. In accordance with best practice, common plans of work which are utilised as working documents have been developed for each junior cycle year group. These long-term plans of work are based on the junior cycle syllabus and outline on a term-by-term basis, the topics to be covered under each module, for each year group. The practice of individually tailoring the common plans of work, to meet the needs of individual class groups, is a positive feature. SPHE modules are revisited over the three-year cycle, thus ensuring a spiral and developmental approach to the delivery of the programme.
In the context of ongoing subject planning it is recommended that these long-term plans of work be developed into short-term plans. These documents should outline topics to be taught within shorter timeframes and indicate the corresponding teaching methodologies, assessment modes and learning outcomes to be attained. These plans should also incorporate a review section for comments on the achievement of the learning objectives of lessons. This provision would facilitate focused review of the course at the end of each year. Reference to cross-curricular links, cultural diversity, record keeping, reporting procedures, and information on planning for students with special needs would further enhance the emerging subject plan. This process could be implemented on a phased basis. The development of these plans will necessitate further collaboration among the SPHE teachers and provide a rich opportunity for the sharing of good practice, ideas and resources.
Teachers maintain records of work completed to date in order to review progress and inform future planning. Substitute teachers or those new to SPHE are well supported by the co-ordinator. The provision of an annual budget for SPHE is commendable and management is supportive of requests made for additional teaching resources for SPHE. The school’s SPHE programme makes use of a wide variety of educational packs, books videos, and DVDs and these are centrally located in the staff room. Teachers make good use of the shared data on the school server with regard to planning and the sharing of resources. All available resources for SPHE are catalogued in the subject plan and storing arrangements are such that they enable easy access to these resources for all teachers.
The school is strongly committed to monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the SPHE programme. It is laudable that this ongoing review mechanism is managed by the co-ordinator and comprises the views of students, teachers and parents. Regular feedback is provided to school management and this informs future planning and delivery of SPHE.
The standard of teaching and teaching was very good in all the SPHE lessons observed. There was evidence of very good short-term planning for lessons, which included the prior preparation of class materials. This resulted in lessons that had a clear purpose and were well structured and pitched at an appropriate level for each group of students. Where best practice was observed, lessons were planned to serve specific learning outcomes and those learning outcomes were shared at the beginning of lessons with learners, helping them to connect new learning with previous work and also inviting them to share responsibility for the lesson. Making a link with previous lesson content is particularly important in SPHE, where lessons are delivered in one period per week.
Some very good examples of the use of appropriate experiential learning or active learning such as use of brainstorming, games, reflection, discussion, pair work and group work were evident in the lessons observed. Students were carefully guided through the required steps of experiencing, processing, generalising and applying their learning in the true spirit of experiential learning. In keeping with best practice for learning and teaching in SPHE, some opportunities were provided for students to acquire knowledge and understanding, balanced with time for reflection on behaviour, attitudes and values. This balance was most successfully attained when the teacher acted as facilitator and opportunities were provided for students to engage with lesson content in an active way. Class discussions proceeded in accordance with previously agreed ground rules and personal information was dealt with in a sensitive and discreet manner. Teaching materials, which included students’ handouts, worksheets, textbooks and the board, were used to enhance teaching and consolidate learning. Teachers make good use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in class preparation and to produce resources for class, and the incidental usage of ICT as a teaching tool in classrooms was evident in some of the lessons observed.
All teachers used questioning to good effect to stimulate and interact with students, to check on understanding, to trigger discussion and to structure the learning activity. Where best practice was observed, teachers progressed from recall and recognition questions to questions requiring higher-order thinking and personal responses. Some good practice was observed where students were encouraged to think, consider, analyse and synthesise issues and answers during activity-based learning. This practice is commendable as it assists students in developing higher-order thinking skills and should be incorporated regularly into SPHE lessons. Lesson activities were interspersed with timely input from the teachers and opportunities for students to ask questions where appropriate learning was linked to everyday life. On occasion visiting speakers on a variety of topics are invited to SPHE classes. Other teaching strategies which could be incorporated regularly into SPHE lessons are; visualisations, case studies, role-play, debating, peer learning, collage work, artwork, problem-solving and co-operative learning.
Very good rapport between teachers and students was evident in all the classrooms visited. Teachers consistently welcomed students’ contributions and affirmed their responses well. This contributed to a positive and supportive classroom atmosphere that was conducive to effective learning. Teachers demonstrated concern for their students and the manner of their interactions was warm and considerate. This was effective in developing a caring pastoral relationship with students and reflects well the student-centred ethos permeating the school.
The SPHE department is commended for striving to provide motivational print-rich environments to support the teaching of SPHE. Classroom management was effective and students demonstrated exemplary behaviour and were attentive and engaged in their learning. Seating was appropriately arranged so as to enabled the teacher to check on students’ progress and allowed students the opportunity to ask questions and seek individual help in a non-threatening and supportive manner.
There was evidence that students were able to communicate orally their ideas and knowledge effectively. Students also demonstrated good teamwork skills appropriate to their class group and level.
Continuous informal assessment is carried out in class to assess students’ competence and progress in SPHE. Although practice varies somewhat among teachers, a range of assessment modes is employed, these include oral questioning, work sheets, written exercises, discussions, and some assessment of personal reflections. While there is some evidence of the use of peer-assessment and self-assessment in the lessons observed this should be further developed.
With regard to regular assessment of students’ learning in SPHE; best practice was observed when assessment was viewed as an integral part of teaching and learning involving both teachers and students. In this way assessment is used as a tool for learning, as opposed to measuring the extent to which the topic has been learned. Very good practice was observed with regard to the development of reflection through portfolio work, and this should be further developed through appropriate training across the team of SPHE teachers. In relation to formative assessment, some useful teacher comments were evident, providing valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirming work well done. This good work is illustrative of the principles that underpin assessment for learning and it is recommended that this good practice already evident in some classes should be extended and further developed across all year groups. The sharing of best practice in relation to the various forms of assessment utilised by teachers, and particularly assessment for learning, should be included regularly in discussions at subject department meetings with a view to formulating policy in this important area. In addition, planning for the assessment of students’ progress should be incorporated into planning for teaching and learning. Further information and advice on assessment in SPHE is available in the SPHE Guidelines for Teachers (pages 59-68) and from the SPHE Support Service.
Appropriate class records of students’ attendance and progress are kept using a teacher diary system, which is commendable as it assists teachers in building a profile of students’ progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time. It is commendable that the school informs parents of students’ progress in SPHE through information evenings, annual parent-teacher meetings and school reports four times per year.
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 recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal and with the teachers of SPHE at the conclusion of the evaluation at which the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published September 2008