An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of
Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
Buncrana, County Donegal
Roll number: 71140Q
Date of inspection: 29 February 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 Crana College, 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 four 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.
In Crana College, SPHE benefits from good subject provision and a very supportive school environment. SPHE is timetabled for all junior cycle classes in line with the requirements of Circular Letter M11/03. The focus of this inspection is on SPHE in junior cycle and on the provision of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in senior cycle.
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. Some team members have a number of years of experience in teaching Life Skills, a programme which has been replaced by SPHE, while the majority have joined the team this year. There is a spirit of enthusiasm and a positive attitude amongst the team and it is clear that they are committed to the rationale for SPHE. A key factor contributing to the success of the current programme in the school is that all of those teaching the subject have been assigned their roles following consultation; management is commended in this regard. As far as possible, teachers will retain classes for the duration of the three-year cycle and this is recommended. Notwithstanding this, there should be flexibility for new members to join the team, preferably beginning with a first-year class group. In this way, there will be a focus on building and maintaining capacity.
Co-ordination of the subject is currently allocated to a post holder and it is planned to rotate this position among members of the subject team. Management strongly encourages continuing professional development (CPD) and teachers are facilitated to attend the range of in-service offered by the SPHE Support Service. At the time of this evaluation, discussions with the team indicated that some new members had not yet had the opportunity to avail of any in-service training. It is particularly important that teachers who are new to the subject should avail of the two-day Introduction Training. It is recommended that this issue be pursued and that ongoing monitoring and review of teachers’ CPD needs should be incorporated into subject development planning.
The school makes commendable efforts to inform and involve parents, particularly regarding the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) part of the SPHE programme in junior cycle. It is good practice that a letter is sent to parents in advance of the introduction of the RSE module. However, currently no planning is in place for the delivery of an RSE module in senior cycle. To meet the requirements of both Circular Letter M4/95 and Circular Letter M20/96, it is recommended that planning regarding the delivery of a module of RSE in senior cycle should be initiated immediately.
A variety of resources is available for SPHE and these are currently stored in the staff room and in a classroom. Consequently, some resources are not easily accessible to teachers. As space permits, it is recommended that all resources be stored in a location that is accessible to all teachers at all times. Teachers have some access to the computer room upon request. It is recommended that the SPHE teachers, as part of subject planning, collaborate on ways in which information and communication technology (ICT) can be more effectively integrated into lessons.
School development planning is ongoing and many policies are in place including SPHE, substance use and anti-bullying. However, no evidence was provided regarding the drafting, ratification or review of an RSE policy. It is essential that the board of management and senior in-school management make immediate arrangements for the development of an RSE policy. Good progress has been made in planning within the SPHE department. A subject department plan has been developed. This document outlines the organisational details in relation to the subject and includes lists of modules to be covered in first, second and third year. This document provides a coherent and fully adequate overview of the content of the school’s SPHE programme for the entire three-year junior cycle. Lists of modules to be covered have been developed and these outline the topics to be covered from each module in first, second and third year, on a term-by-term basis. In keeping with good practice, the SPHE syllabus is used as a framework in planning the programme, whilst allowing flexibility to meet the needs of the current cohort of students.
Management is very supportive of collaborative planning and facilitates formal subject department meetings during the school year. Meetings of the team are also held during non-teaching time, lunchtime and after school. Minutes of all formal meetings have been kept. This level of commitment is commended. Good links have been established between the SPHE team and the guidance department in relation to the planning of the careers module which is taught in first and second year by the guidance counsellors.
All teachers presented individual planning documents for their particular classes or year groups, based on the agreed lists of modules. These outlined the content to be covered on a week-by-week basis. Some of these planning documents also focused on methodologies and resources related to lessons. This is good practice and is commended. Members of the SPHE department can now progress this good work by considering together the methodologies appropriate to SPHE, particularly differentiation and by collaborating within the team regarding the development of appropriate assessment criteria.
Seven lessons were visited during the course of the evaluation. All lessons began with a roll call. A warm, supportive environment was evident in all lessons and students were very well affirmed. Short-term planning for most lessons was very good and in some cases, teachers provided a written outline of the lesson. This careful attention to short-term planning resulted in lessons that had a clear purpose and were generally well structured. In most cases, teachers set the lesson in context by reminding students of the previous week’s work. They then, commendably, 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 next lesson. This is excellent practice as it provides a focus and structure for students.
Many of the teaching and learning strategies observed are in keeping with those recommended for the delivery of SPHE. The range of methodologies provided students with opportunities for active, participatory and experiential learning. Direct teacher instruction, the whiteboard, handouts and worksheets were all used. In addition, teaching and learning were supported by strategies such as brainstorming, pair work and group work, questioning, individual work, discussion and reflection.
Best practice was observed when lessons included a variety of methodologies, where they provided for student participation in a range of tasks and where the teacher acted as a facilitator of learning. This was observed, for example, in a lesson on communication and another on self-confidence. In one other lesson observed, the topic-at-hand was alcohol. Students sat in a circle and through teacher questioning, recalled material from their previous lesson. A second activity required students to move around the room. Seating arrangements were appropriately flexible to facilitate both activities. Responses from discussions were documented by students on the board. A short DVD, appropriately integrated into the lesson, was subsequently analysed by students. Throughout the entire lesson, students were motivated, enthusiastic and the level of learning was high as a result.
In all of the lessons observed, there was a very supportive learning atmosphere. It was clear that good relationships had been established between students and their teachers. Students were effectively and appropriately affirmed and all contributions were warmly welcomed. Classroom management in general was good and there were some examples of excellent management of students’ learning activities. In some cases, teachers reminded students of the ground rules which had been agreed for the SPHE class in order to establish a climate of trust and respect; this is commended.
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 purpose of the lesson. This was due to allocating an inappropriate amount of time to the activity or seeking an excessive amount of information from students during a feedback session. Analysing information from feedback has value but it is important to recognise the stage at which that analysis has reached its optimum and to introduce the next phase of the lesson.
In many classes visited it was evident that a system has been developed for students to file and store personal materials from the SPHE lessons. This typically took the form of a folder. The folders are generally stored securely in the classroom and are distributed to students at the beginning of each lesson. This is very good practice. It ensures that students and their parents have a tangible record of work and achievement for the year, it provides a tool for assessment and it guarantees that students’ work is not left lying around the classroom. However, the level of monitoring that was evident did vary. Discussions regarding appropriate criteria for assessment of students’ work should now be prioritised at planning meetings. Consideration should also be given to how student reflection and self-assessment could inform programme planning and a review of teaching and learning in SPHE. 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 (www.ncca.ie).
In some cases, evidence was provided that ground rules, which were clearly visible in students’ portfolios, had been agreed with the class at the start of the year. It is now essential that all classes be given the opportunity to discuss and agree a class contract to foster a positive learning environment.
Student progress is assessed on an on-going basis through oral questioning. In the classes observed, this varied between targeting individual students and letting questions out to the entire class for discussion. It is laudable that the school reports to parents on students’ progress in SPHE as part of the regular student progress reports; this generally takes the form of a comment from the teacher about students’ progress in the subject. Parents can also meet with teachers to discuss progress at parent-teacher evenings.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· SPHE is timetabled appropriately for all junior cycle classes.
· There is very good whole-school support for the subject and collaborative planning is facilitated by school management. In addition, the SPHE team meets informally on a regular basis.
· Good progress has been made with subject planning in SPHE.
· Teaching methodologies which provided students with opportunities for active, experiential and participatory learning were observed in lessons visited.
· In the lessons observed, there was a supportive learning atmosphere and students were well and appropriately affirmed.
· A system has been developed for students to file and store personal materials relating to SPHE.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that the board of management and senior in-school management make immediate arrangements for the development of an RSE policy so as to meet the requirements to Circular M4/95 and Circular M20/96.
· It is recommended that planning for the delivery of an RSE module at senior cycle be initiated immediately.
· It is recommended that all class groups be given the opportunity to discuss and agree a class contract.
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