An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna
Department of Education and Skills
Subject Inspection of Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School
Rosbercon, New Ross, County Wexford
Roll number: 63630O
Date of inspection: 08 May 2009
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 Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary 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 one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School is a voluntary secondary school for girls with a current enrolment of 350 students. Classes are organised into mixed-ability settings. SPHE is appropriately provided as a core subject on the curriculum for all junior cycle students. The time provision and the timetable arrangements for the subject are in line with Circular Letter M11/03. Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is provided as part of the SPHE programme at junior cycle. Appropriate time is provided for the delivery of RSE at senior cycle, with topics delivered through the religious education (RE) and guidance programmes. A number of SPHE-related topics are integrated into the Young Social Innovators (YSI) and RE programmes of work as part of the Transition Year (TY) programme. The provision of SPHE and RSE modules for all year groups is good practice as it continues to provide systematic support for students as they grow and mature.
A caring atmosphere prevails within the school community, which is founded on the principle of respect for all. As part of the whole-school approach to SPHE, the co-ordinator ensures close links are maintained with senior management and the pastoral-care team. SPHE is viewed as an integral component of the schoolís pastoral-care programme and teachers who are deployed to teach the subject possess the necessary skills to deliver a comprehensive programme to meet the needs of the student community. SPHE is delivered by a core team of three teachers and it is good practice that these teachers are assigned to teach the subject following consultation. In addition, every effort is made, where appropriate, for teachers to retain their assigned class groups from first year to third year. It is commendable that teachers also teach another subject to their class groups. This good practice enables a consistent pedagogical approach to be developed from year to year and regular contact with their class groups ensures that teachers can develop a positive rapport with their students. This helps to establish an open and trusting learning environment that is central to learning in SPHE.
Management encourages continuing professional development (CPD) and teachers are facilitated to attend the range of in-service courses offered by the SPHE Support Service. This is commended, as this specialised in-service training is necessary to support the ongoing successful implementation of the subject. It is commendable that records of attendance at in-service and the particular type of training received are maintained. The incremental approach taken by the school to teachersí professional development in SPHE and RSE is good practice, which ensures the continued expansion of teachersí knowledge and skills. Consideration should be given to inviting additional members of staff, who may be interested in teaching the subject in the future, to participate in the SPHE introductory in-service. In this way the school can continue to build its professional capacity and whole-school approach to SPHE. †
A consultative approach is taken to policy formation at the school, involving members of the board of management, staff and parents, with students appropriately included where relevant. Policies relevant to SPHE and RSE have been developed to support the students and the work of the school, including policies on substance use, anti-bullying, a code of behaviour and dealing with critical incidents. The Child Protection Guidelines have been adopted in line with the requirements of the Department of Education and Skills. A number of links have been established with relevant external agencies that contribute to the work of the school and the SPHE department. In keeping with good practice, teachers ensure that guest speakers are suitably qualified to deliver planned activities that support studentsí learning in SPHE. However, the schoolís existing guidelines and procedures in relation to visitors and guest speakers should be formalised and documented. †
A number of positive initiatives have been undertaken by the school to promote awareness and knowledge amongst staff, students and parents regarding issues such as bullying, mental health and substance use. Management is supportive of the range of initiatives planned and organised by the SPHE department. The organisation of whole-school focus weeks, such as the anti-bullying week, to highlight specific issues, is very good practice. Furthermore, the display of posters throughout the school to promote relevant aspects of the SPHE programme, such as healthy eating, physical activity, mental health and personal safety, help to reinforce and consolidate studentsí learning.
There is a good range of resources, including access to information and communication technology (ICT) to support teaching and learning. A number of televisions and DVD players are available to classrooms when required. The provision and support for the acquisition of resources is good and management ensures that the subject department is well resourced. The classrooms, in terms of size and layout, were sufficient to allow for good student and teacher mobility, which is essential for active and participatory learning experiences promoted in SPHE.
The SPHE teachers are facilitated to meet formally at least once a term. Minutes of these meetings are recorded and provide good evidence of a focused and progressive approach to the organisation, planning and delivery of the SPHE programme. The role of subject co-ordinator is rotated amongst members of the SPHE department in keeping with good practice. This role is very well executed and significant progress has been made in developing a comprehensive subject plan and detailed programmes of work.
The SPHE subject plan provides a detailed overview of the organisation, planning and delivery of the subject in the school. Members of the SPHE department support each other in their work through the development and sharing of resources, and through regular discussions and informal meetings. A collaborative approach has been taken by the SPHE department to ensure that a common programme of work is structured and delivered in a coherent and progressive manner for junior cycle and senior cycle students. Planning for the ten modules at junior cycle, including RSE, follows the recommended framework in the Departmentís Guidelines for Teachers. The practice of revisiting each module every year ensures that studentsí knowledge, skills and attitudes are developed in an incremental manner.
To build on the considerable work completed to date, it is recommended that the planning documents for the programme of work for each year group be expanded to identify the specific learning outcomes for each module. Learning outcomes should be expressed in terms of the specific knowledge, skills and attitudes that students are expected to acquire and develop through studying each topic. The most appropriate and effective learning-and-teaching and assessment methods identified in the subject plan can then be selected and applied to help achieve the desired learning outcomes. This will provide a reference framework that will guide an individual teacherís planning and preparation. It is suggested that this task should be completed on a phased basis by the SPHE department.
A number of cross-curricular links have also been identified in the subject plan and include the identification of relevant topics or activities in Home Economics, Religion, Science, Art, Physical Education and Guidance to support studentsí learning. Studentsí participation in a range of co-curricular activities including annual fund-raising events and social concern programmes is highly commended, as these activities may help to promote understanding of issues related to social responsibility and personal health and well-being.†
The SPHE department has developed or purchased an extensive range of resources such as DVDs, CDs and videos, textbooks and worksheets, which provide an excellent support to teaching and learning. In addition, there is an extensive collection of resource packs to support the majority of the planned modules and topics. These resources are stored in a central area, which ensures that there is easy access to materials in preparation for lessons. A textbook is also used with each year group as a reference and resource. The judicious use of the textbook is commended.
There is a good review of modules and supporting resources at a subject-department level in some areas. The involvement of students in a formal end-of-module review process should be considered. This will provide useful feedback to the SPHE department regarding the content, resources, interest and engagement level of students.
There was a good standard of teaching and learning in all of the SPHE lessons observed. Lessons were well planned and the material covered was appropriate to the studentsí age and ability. Classroom organisation was efficient and very well managed. In one case, students expediently organised their seating arrangements into a circle, which facilitated an interactive and inclusive approach to the planned class tasks. Lessons were delivered at a pace that allowed students time and space to engage with, and reflect on, the key concepts. Following roll call, teachers introduced the topic of the lesson by placing it in context to studentsí everyday lives and experiences. This strategy was very effective in engaging students and led to some interesting discussion and sharing of experiences. To build on this very good practice, it is recommended that teachers outline the intended learning outcomes for students more explicitly at the outset. The board may be used to highlight the key knowledge and skills that students should know and demonstrate as a result of their learning. Teachers should also return to the learning outcomes at the end of the lesson to assess studentsí learning and to provide feedback. †
In the lessons observed, the topics covered were personal safety and alcohol. Good examples of appropriate experiential and active learning were evident in these lessons and included circle-time discussion and group activity, brainstorming, questioning, self-reflection, pair work and small group work. Teachers are commended for their efforts to embrace these methods to promote learning in SPHE. The range of teaching strategies observed was suitable to engage students in personal reflection that involved analysis and evaluation of their attitudes and behaviours. Teachers used questioning to good effect and differentiated the type of questions to suit the ability of the student. In many cases, teachers used studentsí personal experiences and responses to develop their understanding of the topic. Worksheets, handouts and the board were effectively used to enhance teaching and consolidate learning. Much discussion arose from the resource materials used by the teachers. In one instance, the introductory activity involved students forming groups with similar attitudes and behaviours when they are road users or pedestrians. The resource materials for this task were developed by the schoolís TY students as part of their Young Social Innovators (YSI) project and their implementation to support studentsí learning is very positive. This activity was clearly enjoyable and highlighted some common attitudes that students have that may compromise their own personal safety. Most encouragingly, the teacher carefully and skilfully facilitated students to challenge their attitudes and behaviour and to identify simple and easily implementable ways of improving their own safety and that of others. This is highly commendable as studentsí learning will have a clear and applicable impact on their wellbeing.
In one instance, students may have benefited from more focused tasks earlier in the lesson as the initial whole-class discussion was lengthy and may have been less effective in actively engaging all of the students. It is recommended that students are engaged in focused activity tasks early in the lesson. Whole-class discussion may then be used to draw together the key concepts from the activity, information or material to help students formulate opinions, attitudes and behaviours. More information on the use of the experiential learning cycle in SPHE lessons can be obtained in section 5 of the SPHE School Handbook.
Classrooms included displays of studentsí work, which is good practice as it serves to affirm their efforts and reinforces the learning of relevant concepts. The room arrangements were well organised which ensured an orderly and participative learning environment. Classroom management was excellent and students were highly respectful and demonstrated exemplary behaviour. Teachers afforded students many opportunities to share their opinions and this process was both affirming and enjoyable for all involved. In all lessons, the learning atmosphere was pleasant and supportive and an excellent rapport existed between students and their teacher.
All lessons concluded by recapping and summarising the main points and outlining the topics to be covered in the next lesson, which is in keeping with good practice. Key points from the lessons were highlighted on the board, which is commended. Students should have the opportunity to record these key points in their copybooks. It is recommended that students retain a record of the class responses and work covered in class in their copybooks as this can serve as a useful reference for future lessons on the focused topics. Students demonstrated a good ability to communicate clearly about the topics and themes explored during their lessons. They confidently rationalised their opinions in an informed manner when questioned about the content and relevance of their lessons.
Detailed records of studentsí attendance and work covered in class are maintained by all teachers. A number of assessment strategies are identified in the SPHE subject plan such as questioning in class, observation of participation and engagement in class activities, completion of homework assignments and assessment of project and portfolio work. Students maintain a copybook and workbook to record work completed in their SPHE lessons. This good practice ensures that students have a tangible record of their work and achievements during the year. It may also help to inform part of the assessment process and provide meaningful feedback to parents regarding studentsí engagement with the subject. It is also commendable that students are set homework assignments on occasion.
There is scope for the further development and implementation of a systematic approach to assessment in SPHE. It is recommended that assessment-for-learning practices be introduced to provide a basis to guide studentsí learning. This process will help to complement other modes of assessment already in use by the SPHE department and ensure that the focus of learning is on behaviour and attitudes as well as knowledge. Further information and advice on assessment in SPHE are available in the Guidelines for Teachers (pages 59-68). In addition, the NCCA website www.ncca.ie contains useful information on assessment for learning, which teachers may find informative.
Parents are informed about the SPHE programme in the school through an information evening for parents of first-years and during an open night. Parents are also invited to attend presentations given by guest speakers, which is very good practice. Parents also have the opportunity to discuss aspects of the SPHE and RSE programmes with the co-ordinator. SPHE teachers attend all parent-teacher meetings, which provides a useful forum to establish a connection with parents and to discuss any sensitive issues or concerns. Teachers enter a comment regarding studentsí engagement and progress in SPHE on school reports at the end of term. However, it was reported during the inspection that SPHE is not on the official list of subjects on these school reports. It is recommended that this situation be addressed as it is important that the subject is viewed as an integral component of every studentís education.
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 May 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1:† Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomes the Inspectorís report on SPHE. It is pleased that the strengths of the schoolís SPHE programme have been recognised and commends the teachers involved.
The Board furthermore emphasises the importance and necessity for SPHE in schools in the formation of young people and the teaching of lifeskills and coping skills for their future.
Area 2:†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the†† inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection