An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)



Greenhills College

Limekiln Avenue, Greenhills, Dublin 12

Roll number: 70130I


Date of inspection: 22 January 2009






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 in Greenhills College, Dublin 12, conducted as part of a whole-school evaluation. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in SPHE 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 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 teachers of SPHE.


Subject provision and whole school support


All junior cycle students are timetabled for one class period of SPHE per week, in accordance with the requirements of the Department of Education and Science circular letter M11/03. In addition, a number of whole-school events are organised by the principal to support the social, personal and health education of students attending Greenhills College.† For instance, a number of guest speakers make presentations in areas such as firework safety, bus safety, emotional health and substance misuse education. It is commendable that the principal, in advance of the school visit, discussed the content of the presentation with the visiting speaker. This good practice ensures that the content of all presentations from outside speakers complements school policy.


While some elements of relationships and sexuality education (RSE) are delivered in junior cycle SPHE lessons, to date the main mode of delivery for the area of content, conception to birth, is by means of a once-off presentation made to second-year students. This presentation is available on request to other year groups but is not delivered as standard practice. The contribution that a presentation delivered by an expert brings to an RSE programme is acknowledged. However, best practice in the effective delivery of RSE is where students are exposed to the themes of a RSE programme in each year of junior and senior cycle to facilitate the implementation of a spiral and developmental approach to the learning outcomes for each topic chosen. In addition, the active and experiential learning strategies that underpin the RSE resource materials are best suited to a classroom environment. Therefore, it is recommended that the current model of provision be reviewed to facilitate a balanced and incremental coverage of all themes recommended in a junior and senior cycle RSE programme. In junior cycle, the RSE programme should be placed in the context of SPHE lessons where other themes covered support key elements of RSE. The SPHE curriculum framework also supports the active and experiential teaching strategies underpinning RSE programmes. Senior cycle RSE should be addressed in the context of a personal development programme using a cross-curricular programme design. School personnel with specialist knowledge in aspects of RSE still have a valuable role to play at different stages throughout the programme.


A whole-school RSE policy was developed a number of years ago. A commendable level of consultation took place with members of the parentsí association in designing the policy and agreeing the module content. However, the policy needs updating to reflect the requirements of Department Circular 27/08. It is recommended that a revised RSE policy be developed by a sub-committee of key staff in consultation with the board of management, senior management, staff and parents. The revised policy should make provision for a broad and balanced RSE programme and be 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


Teachers are assigned to SPHE by consultation. This is good practice. The availability of a qualified nurse on staff acts as an additional valuable support. It is evident that there has been some turnover of staff deployed to teach SPHE. Currently SPHE is taught by a team of three teachers; two of whom are new to teaching the subject and one who is teaching SPHE for the second year. Most team members teach their SPHE class for another subject. This good practice helps to establish a rapport with the group, especially in the context where SPHE is only timetabled for one class period per week. All three teachers are very experienced permanent members of staff and display a very high level of willingness and enthusiasm for developing the subject and strengthening the profile of SPHE in the school. It is recommended that senior management, in assigning teachers to SPHE, given strong consideration to leaving the existing core team in place to enable them to use the knowledge and skills being acquired to progress the very good work underway. Such a move would also allow all teachers to retain their class group from first year through to third year. This practice assists in the establishment of a safe and secure learning environment, which is necessary to facilitate optimal learning in SPHE. Over time other teachers can join the team to build capacity.


There has been a good level of engagement with relevant continuous professional development (CPD) to enable the team settle into its role. Senior management is commended for facilitating this very good practice. A systematic approach is being adopted to planning for teachersí on-going CPD needs and key priorities in the area of RSE and emotional health have been identified. This is laudable practice, as the systematic engagement of all team members with CPD builds capacity within the team and supports the facilitation of a high quality SPHE programme. Due to the nature of SPHE training, it is recognised that not all team members will attend all the elective courses. Therefore, it is advocated that a copy of the information supplied at each in-service course attended be filed in a subject planning folder. This would ensure that the information is available to each member of the team and can be referred to as the need arises.


Management is very supportive of requests made to update resources for SPHE. In the current academic year a key focus of the SPHE teamís work has been to catalogue the resources currently available in the school and to source additional materials. To date an SPHE resource cabinet has been organised in the teachersí work room and an inventory of all the available resources has been compiled and included in the SPHE plan. This very good practice facilitates the sharing of resources among the team. The efforts of all involved in this work are highly commended. At present there is a good range of resources available and the need to source additional material is recognised by the team. This can be done over time. To support a whole-school approach to SPHE it is laudable that posters relating to countering bullying behaviour are displayed on school corridors.


Very good practice is evident in informing parents about the SPHE programme. The information leaflet produced by the support service is distributed to all parents. It is particularly noteworthy that the SPHE team have a stand at an information evening for parents of incoming first-year students. This provides a very good opportunity for parents to discuss matters relating to the social, personal and health education programme offered in the school.


Whole-school support for the social and personal development of students is evident through the work of the school core team, year heads and tutors. To further develop a cohesive and holistic approach to the personal and social development of students, if feasible, the SPHE co-ordinator could be invited to some core team meetings. This could provide a forum to discuss how SPHE lessons can support general issues that are coming to the attention of the core team.


Planning and preparation


There is a collaborative ethos evident in the work of the SPHE team. From reviewing subject department documentation it is evident that the team has met informally on a very regular basis since September. Good records are kept of the business of each meeting. This practice facilitates effective continuity between meetings. To enhance this practice and facilitate the process of long-term subject planning for SPHE, it is recommended that management provide some formal time for SPHE subject department meetings. This could be done as part of the established calendar of subject planning meetings.


Subject planning is at a very early stage of development. The SPHE team recognises the work that needs to be done to realise the potential of SPHE. Until recently subject co-ordination was shared among two members of the team. In the interests of developing more systematic procedures, the team decided to rotate the position among team members. This is a commendable approach. The duties of the co-ordinator have been agreed among the team. However, the duties should also be agreed with senior management. The subject co-ordinator displays a very high level of commitment and enthusiasm for leading the work of the subject team. It is recommended that the current co-ordinator remains in position until the new developments in relation to programme planning are firmly established in the school.


Initial steps have been taken to develop a common programme of work for junior cycle SPHE. The programme in use for the current year is the exemplar programme outline produced by the SPHE Support Service. This is a good starting point, as the template provides for balanced coverage of all ten modules of the SPHE curriculum framework. However, the programme needs to be developed and adapted to meet the needs of the school. As a first step, it is recommended that clear learning outcomes and assessment strategies be identified for each module of work to ensure that there is an incremental approach taken to the development of studentsí knowledge, attitudes and skills from first year through to third year. The number of class periods planned for each topic should also be noted. To maximise the learning potential of guest speaker presentations, such events should be incorporated into the SPHE programme plan. This will ensure that the lessons planned prior to and after a guest speakersí visit can prepare and build on the content of the presentation.†


This enhanced collaborative programme of work should be used as a working document by the teaching team. Each teacher should record the actual time taken to complete topics, any adjustments made to the sequence of lessons. They should make note of particularly useful teaching and learning strategies and resources used. The agenda of future planning meetings should include time to share experiences in relation to the implementation of the programme of work. Such practices will be very useful in informing the on-going monitoring and advancement of a programme plan that will eventually include information on suitable teaching strategies and resources for each lesson.


Junior cycle RSE should be planned as an integral component of SPHE with all relevant cross-curricular links and guest speaker presentations firmly linked to the sequence of SPHE lessons in each year of the programme. The modes of delivery used in RSE lessons should allow for the incorporation of the active and experiential teaching strategies underpinning Department of Education and Science resource materials. In developing the senior cycle RSE programme, due account must be taken of what was covered in junior cycle so that the students experience a comprehensive developmental programme of RSE during their years in post-primary school.


Whole-school policies in the areas of substance misuse and anti-bullying are evident. From reviewing these policies it is apparent that a holistic and balanced approach is taken to managing student behaviour if incidents arise. Both policies are in place for some time and would benefit from updating. It is recommended that the whole-school policy on substance misuse is re-drafted to align it with Department guidelines. This policy should be developed by a sub-committee of key staff in consultation with members of the school community. Further advice in these areas is available from the SPHE support service and the Department website at To support a co-ordinated effort in implementing a SPHE programme at whole-school and subject department level, the role and contribution that SPHE makes in the implementation of relevant policies should be clearly identified in the policy documentation. †


Individual planning for the lessons observed was good. Teachers keep good records of class attendance and the work covered each week. In the event of a change in staffing, this information should be passed onto the new teacher assigned to the class. Individual teachers have begun to compile resource folders based on the materials used in lessons. This good practice should inform the development of the collaborative plan and extend the bank of shared resource material.


Teaching and learning


A range of SPHE lessons was observed during the course of the evaluation. In all instances teaching and learning took place in a secure and supportive environment. A very good rapport was apparent between teachers and students and a climate of mutual respect was evident and encouraged. Students were regularly affirmed and teachers responded with sensitivity to student comments when classroom discussion took place. Students displayed a sense of security in asking questions or seeking clarification on the topics under discussion. It was noted positively that the ground rules for SPHE were displayed in a number of classrooms visited and were frequently referred to during lessons. This proved an effective strategy in managing planned learning activities. In one lesson observed students had their own copy of the classroom rules and were invited to refer to them frequently. This very good practice ensured that students were actively engaged in managing their own learning. A special needs assistant (SNA) was present in one of the lessons observed. Throughout the lesson the SNA provided a valuable level of appropriate assistance to effectively support inclusive classroom practice.


There was evidence of good short-term planning in the lessons observed. All lessons had a clear focus and the topics covered were in line with the long-term plan. A range of resource materials, including quizzes and worksheets, was prepared in advance to facilitate learning. However, in a number of lessons there was scope to adjust the pace and pitch of lesson content to maximise studentsí learning.† It is also important when planning lessons to allow sufficient time for a lesson summary to enable students to reflect on and reinforce their learning. Therefore, it is recommended that clear learning outcomes be developed as part of lesson preparation. These outcomes should be differentiated to suit studentsí abilities and level, and provide information on the knowledge, skills and attitudes that will be facilitated during the lesson. The outcomes should be shared with students from the outset. This strategy proves very effective in setting the scene for a topic and for engaging students in the lesson content. If learning outcomes are referred to at regular intervals throughout the lesson, the strategy also has the potential to facilitate additional opportunities for student reflection and self-evaluation. These are key principles underpinning the aims of the SPHE curriculum framework.


Each lesson began by sharing the topic of the lesson with the students. In all cases the teaching strategies deployed supported students in linking the material being taught with prior learning. This good practice supports good quality learning, especially in a subject like SPHE where the students only have one class period per week. A range of methodologies was deployed in the lessons observed. Of particular note were instances where students actively engaged in experiential learning. In one lesson, handouts featuring a cartoon character and survey were effectively used to address the sensitive issue of personal hygiene. As students reflected on the questions posed the teacher closely monitored individual student responses on the sheet and provided feedback on the progress made. This is very good practice. In another lesson, a class activity clearly illustrated to students the amount of sugar present in a packet of sweets. Students responded well to such a strategy as the material was clearly linked to their own experience and they were actively engaged with the task. On occasion students were provided with opportunities to develop skills and confidence in group-work activity. This good practice provided ideal opportunities for students to reflect on the material being taught and to discuss the issues with their peers. Furthermore, small-group work or pair work provides valuable opportunities for quieter students to develop social skills and it leads to less reliance on teacher-led activities. To maximise the learning potential of group work, it is recommended that each member of the group be given a clearly defined role and that consistent emphasis be placed on the class ground rules when feedback is being taken to ensure that members of the different groups listen to the contributions of others.


The personal contribution that the teachers made to teaching their classes was much in evidence throughout all the lessons. Teacher-led discussion was the predominant strategy observed in most lessons. At all times a commendable emphasis was placed on ensuring that studentsí understood the key terminology of the topic under discussion. In all cases teachersí questioning skills were very effective in checking learning, encouraging student participation and in developing positive attitudes regarding the topics under discussion. Good use was made of the board to summarise key points of information. Students should be encouraged to note key points from group discussion into their notebook. However, active experiential learning is a key strategy underpinning SPHE. Therefore, in order to build on the good practices already evident and to encourage active student engagement in all lessons, it is recommended that teachers be mindful of incorporating strategies that facilitate experiential learning and allow for an appropriate balance between teacher-led and student-led activity. Further information on this area is available in the Guidelines for Teachers SPHE handbook produced by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.


Students are occasionally provided with worksheets, quizzes, case studies and reflection activities as evidenced by an examination of studentsí folders and copy books. This good practice is encouraged further to facilitate students to grapple with the topics under discussion, challenge their own ideas and reflect on their learning. Further use of written exercises, from either the studentsí textbook or additional worksheets will build up a bank of student work that they can reflect on throughout their SPHE programme. These activities will also provide additional opportunities for teachers to monitor student progress and provide feedback on the completed work. The written activities selected should be linked to the learning outcomes and assessment strategies planned for the lesson.


An agreed system has recently been developed for students to store and file information from their SPHE class. This good practice allows the students build up a body of work over the years, to which they can refer, and facilitates the safe storage of personal information. Due to the integrated and holistic nature of the SPHE programme, students may need to reflect back on work covered in previous years. It is recommended therefore that students retain the same folder from first year through to third year.


Although students are assigned to base classrooms, the SPHE team is commended for the efforts made to generate a dedicated space to display SPHE material. This good practice creates a stimulating and attractive learning environment.




Some good practice in integrating formative assessment was evident in the lessons observed. Questioning strategies, teacher monitoring of activities and plenary sessions from group work served to assess individual levels of learning as well as to provide affirmation and feedback on the tasks assigned. This is good practice. Feedback is an essential component of student assessment. This is significant in SPHE where particular emphasis is placed on studentsí self-awareness and self-esteem. There is considerable scope for the further use of written tasks in SPHE to provide opportunities for the provision of constructive feedback and teacher monitoring. In one instance students were given a home task. The task was designed to challenge students to reflect on the lesson content. Further use of this good practice is recommended to support continuity between lessons and provide opportunities for constructive feedback. As a means of building on existing practice, it is recommended that the SPHE team agree an assessment policy. The team should collectively review the range of assessment modes used, and agree a range of assessment tools that could be used with all class groups. It is important that these assessment modes are fully compatible with the aims and objectives of the SPHE syllabus. Information and support on assessment is available in the Guidelines for Teachers (pp 59-68).


Some use is made of end-of-module review forms to allow students to provide feedback on the work covered and to assess their learning. This good practice is encouraged and could also be extended by asking students to complete a review form for each guest presentation. The information obtained from such review mechanisms can prove useful in informing on-going programme development. A mechanism that would allow parental feedback to inform the cycle of review and evaluation could also be considered.


Teachers maintain very good records of studentsí attendance and the work completed in SPHE lessons. It is commendable that the school reports to parents on studentsí progress in SPHE as part of the regular school reports and at parent-teacher meetings.


Summary of main findings and recommendations


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, January 2010