An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation:
Social, Personal and Health Education and English
Cooraclare, Kilrush, Co. Clare
Date of inspection: 19 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Curriculum Implementation Evaluation: Social, Personal and Health Education 2007
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science undertook an evaluation of the teaching and learning in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and English in a sample of schools nationally.
This evaluation is the third in a series of thematic evaluations of aspects of the primary curriculum and is part of an ongoing review of curriculum implementation in primary schools. The purpose of this evaluation is to provide information on the extent of curriculum implementation in SPHE and English. The evaluation focuses on the teaching and learning in SPHE and English and on the quality of pupils’ achievement. This evaluation identifies and affirms good practice, and makes recommendations for teaching and the enhancement of pupils’ learning experiences and levels of achievement.
Two inspectors were involved in the evaluation in Cooraclare National School. The evaluation involved the observation of teaching and learning in different class settings, a review of planning and policy documents, and an evaluation of the progress of pupils, including those receiving supplementary teaching in English. A school questionnaire was administered and structured interviews with the principal and class teachers were conducted. Senior pupils and parents were invited to complete questionnaires with respect to issues related to SPHE. Drawing on the evaluations undertaken in the schools nationally, the Inspectorate will publish a composite report on the quality of teaching and learning of SPHE in primary schools. Data from the questionnaires will be aggregated for the composite report.
The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Cooraclare National School is a co-educational school situated in West Clare in the village of Cooraclare and is located approximately nine kilometres from the town of Kilrush. This school is a four teacher school and it caters for pupils from the local village and from the hinterland within a three mile radius. There are three learning-support/resource (LS/RT) teachers based in this school and they provide assistance to pupils in Cooraclare N.S. and to three other schools in the locality. There are currently 90 pupils enrolled and it is expected that numbers attending should remain close to this figure in the immediate future. The school is under the patronage of the Catholic bishop of Killaloe and the school’s mission statement reflects a Catholic ethos.
There is a warm, child-friendly atmosphere in the school. Discipline in the school is of a high order and pupils are well behaved and courteous to teachers, each other and to visitors. This school involves many of its pupils in a wide range of sporting and cultural activities and it is evident that the school receives very good co-operation and support from the board of management and from parents for all of its activities. The school is actively involved in the Green Schools’ Environmental Project and looks forward to qualifying for its first green flag in the near future. Pupils’ school attendance is very good. The board of management, principal, post-holders and staff are commended for their efforts in promoting the inclusive atmosphere that prevails in Cooraclare National School.
The school was constructed in 1953 and an extension was added in 2000. The school is in very good decorative order both inside and outside. The school is fortunate in having extensive grounds which have been developed into a basketball court, playing pitch and a grass play area. The front of the school also has a concrete play area and suitable shelters. The gardens to the front of the school are currently being re-designed and, concurrent with this redevelopment, a variety of trees has been planted to the rear of the school. In conjunction with the Green Schools Project the pupils are actively engaged in ensuring that the school is litter free. The school and its environs are all maintained to a very high standard.
The classrooms are bright, well decorated and each has a range of suitable furnishings. Work displays in all classrooms together with the educational charts and posters in use provide a stimulating learning environment. One of the classrooms now serves as a multi-purposes room furnished with fourteen computers and a Yamaha piano. It is used as an information and communication technology (ICT) centre and for choir practice. It is also used as a base for resource and learning-support teaching. The number of pupils in some of the classrooms puts pressure on the space available. However, the teachers have made very good use of space and have succeeded in implementing a wide range of suitable teaching strategies. Very good use is made of photographic displays in the corridors of the school to celebrate the achievements of the pupils in sport and cultural events.
The school is well equipped with resources for learning in SPHE. Teachers use a wide range of resources including Bí Folláin, Stay Safe, Walk Tall, Making the Links, Be Safe, Alive O, Earthlinks and Relationship and Sexuality Education Programme. These resources are effectively used by teachers in all classrooms. A range of posters and videos is also available for use. In some classes the programmes Socially Speaking and Managing Aggression and Anger are also used. The school is fortunate in having a number of teachers who assist pupils engage in circle time activities. Parents have been involved in assisting the school develop its grounds. Parents also provide assistance for other school activities such as concerts and fund-raising events.
Cooraclare N.S. also avails of resources from the wider community. In the recent past the school had visits from the fire brigade, a local member of the Garda Síochána, a nature expert and a physical education co-ordinator who instructed the school in the area of co-operative games. In the past the school was also involved in the Artist in School Scheme.
The teachers deal sensitively with social, personal and health education issues in conjunction with the relationships and sexuality education (RSE) programme. This programme is delivered by the teaching staff and pupils in sixth class have received additional guidance from an outside speaker. External support provided to the school is carefully planned and monitored by the principal and staff.
The range of resources made available by the school to support the teaching and learning of English is of very good quality. All classrooms provide a variety of books which are age appropriate and sufficiently diverse to cater for a range of tastes. The books are displayed attractively and prominently and are easily accessible to all pupils. Good monitoring systems have been put in place by all teachers to ensure that a reading culture is promoted throughout the school. All classrooms can be characterised as print-rich environments with stimuli provided to scaffold the acquisition of reading, writing and oracy skills for pupils. These range progressively from the use of illustrative aids, sentence strips and flashcards in the infant classes to story and news boards in the senior classes. ICT tools are made available and are used effectively by most classes to support learning. The impulse to write is cultivated consistently throughout the school and pupils’ writing samples are a striking feature in all classrooms.
The services of three LS/RT teachers (shared with clusters of other local schools) are available to support mainstream teachers in the teaching and learning of English. The three teachers are deployed in different ways to support different aspects of the school’s provision in English: implementation of a whole-school phonological awareness programme, provision of supplementary teaching for pupils requiring learning-support in literacy and numeracy; and in-class support for the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs. The services of the three LS/RT teacher contribute meaningfully to the implementation of the curriculum for English in the school. However, the board should investigate the feasibility of re-organising the clustering arrangements with the DES with a view towards consolidating the three shared posts into a possible two full-time posts.
The SPHE whole-school policy was devised by the staff with assistance from a cuiditheoir from the Primary Curriculum Support Programme and was ratified by the board of management in 2006. A review date of 2009 is set for this policy. The policy is based on the structures and principles of the Primary School Curriculum (1999). The policy states the school’s vision for SPHE as “the fostering of the personal development, health and well-being of the individual child to help him/ her to create and maintain supportive relationships and become an active and responsible citizen.” The policy also makes statements on the aims for SPHE, the approaches and methodologies to be used, context for SPHE, assessment procedures, and pupils with different needs, equality of participation and planning and preparation. The delivery of the programme is over a two-year period and the policy gives a broad outline of the work for each class grouping for each year. There is a need for more detail in this content outline to ensure continuity and progression from class to class and to avoid undue repetition. There is also a need to ensure that there is a balance of delivery among the three strands and to ensure that there is further development of the strand Myself and the Wider World. It is recommended that these suggestions be implemented in the review of the policy.
The whole-school plan for English was reviewed and ratified by the board of management in February 2007. In its current form, this plan represents an agreed approach to the teaching and learning of English which is broad and balanced and addresses each aspect of the curriculum in a meaningful and realistic way. It should be of considerable assistance to the teachers in their individual planning for the implementation of the English curriculum in the school. At present, teachers’ long-term and short-term planning reflects the emphases of the school plan for English to varying degrees in most instances. The staff might usefully consider reviewing the format of their individual planning to ensure it is aligned fully with the revised school plan. This will assist future school self-evaluation of the extent to which the school plan is being implemented in each classroom.
All teachers provide appropriate long-term and short-term planning and monthly progress records are also maintained. Individual teacher long-term and short-term planning reflects the aims and objectives of the school policy on SPHE. In this planning a broad range of teaching strategies is outlined and the planning also facilitates integration across a wide range of curricular areas. Appropriate programmes in SPHE are set out for the class groupings. In these programmes there is a brief reference to differentiation and this is an area that should be expanded. It is also recommended that there is further expansion of the content of the lessons being taught and that this content is also recorded in the monthly progress record.
Copies of the English and SPHE plans are provided to each member of the teaching staff. Parents may access school policies through the principal’s office. The policy on RSE was developed by the RSE committee and parents, board members and teachers were involved in the process. Many other organisational policies support the SPHE plan. These include policies on enrolment, anti-bullying, code of behaviour, substance use, internet acceptable use, home/school links, gender equality, school attendance, health and safety, sexual harassment, green schools and healthy eating. Some policies are presented to parents when pupils are enrolled in the school and this practice is commended. It was reported that the board has encouraged the formation of a parents’ association during the current school year. At the meetings held by the board to form an association, parents expressed the views that they did not want a formal association. The parents gave their support to their representatives on the board and a group of parents offered their services to assist in the development of school activities. It is recommended that the development of parental input into the general area of school planning be expanded.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 1999, updated issue May 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, April 2001). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
The quality of provision in SPHE was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching and learning, a review of samples of pupils’ work and interaction with the pupils in all four of the mainstream classrooms.
The quality of teaching and learning in SPHE is very good throughout the school. In all classrooms there is a warm welcoming atmosphere. The pupils are friendly and courteous and they willingly answer questions and offer opinions. The teachers are commended for their efforts in ensuring that pupils participate in negotiating classroom rules, in sharing responsibilities and in promoting positive discipline procedures. Pupils are encouraged and affirmed and good work and achievements are celebrated.
All classes have a discrete time set aside for SPHE and it is evident that during the year, teachers use their discretionary time to further develop aspects of the SPHE curriculum. Lessons observed were based on the curricular objectives as set out in the teachers’ planning and in the whole-school SPHE plan. A range of very suitable teaching strategies including pair work, group work, co-operative games, circle time and drama was used during the lessons observed. These lessons were generally based on the experiences of the pupils and situations to which the pupils could easily relate. The lessons observed were well constructed and a very good range of resources was used to assist the learning. Pupils were active in the learning and all pupils were given opportunities to offer opinions and adopt different roles within the groups. A number of lessons were integrated with other curricular areas especially in the teaching of oral language and in Social, Environmental and Scientific Education.
All pupils are encouraged to take part in the SPHE activities organised. Pupils talk confidently about their experiences and they offer opinions while discussing the opinions offered by others in an appropriate manner. The learning activities observed encouraged and promoted initiative and creativity among the pupils. It is evident that the pupils’ self-esteem and self-confidence is effectively promoted during these activities. The pupils have a very good understanding of environmental issues which are promoted well through the Green Schools’ Environmental Project. A healthy eating policy is appropriately implemented in the school and this policy has parental support.
Pupils are also encouraged to partake in a range of co-curricular and extra curricular activities. The pupils also engage in football, soccer, rugby, athletics, school tours, quizzes and take part in school concerts, choir and other church activities.
The quality of provision in English was evaluated on the basis of observation of teaching and learning, a review of samples of pupils’ work and interaction with pupils in all four of the mainstream classrooms.
The teaching and learning of oral language skills is of very good quality throughout the school. Poetry, drama, story and talk and discussion are used very effectively by all teachers as contexts in which to develop pupils’ oral language competence and confidence. These contexts are cleverly chosen to integrate oral language across other subjects in the curriculum and to link oral language with the reading and writing process. Discrete lessons are also taught with the aid of a commercially produced scheme in order to target the development of particular skills. The benefits of this comprehensive approach can be easily discerned by the quality of the pupils’ discourse in the classrooms. All pupils demonstrate the ability to talk audibly and listen attentively. They speak with great confidence and enjoyment on a range of topics in which they have been engaged. They can quickly compose and perform dramatic sketches and their ability to discuss literature and poetry in the senior classes is deserving of particular praise.
The school’s approach to the teaching of reading is also to be commended. Pupils in the infant and junior classes are introduced to print and print media in a very methodical way. Picture books, large format (big) books, labels and theme charts are used to immerse pupils in a print-rich environment. A whole-school phonological awareness programme has been put in place to help prevent the occurrence of early reading difficulties; and small group blending, word recognition and sentence building exercises complement this approach. With this solid platform in place, pupils in the junior and middle classes are taught to skim and scan text using dictionaries, cloze procedure and comprehension exercises. A graded reading scheme is used in conjunction with supplementary readers and pupils’ progress is monitored closely. Pupils in the senior classes are introduced to novels and these texts are used judiciously to support cross-curricular integration with other subjects. Overall reading attainment levels are high and by the time they are ready to transfer to post-primary schools, pupils in the senior classes have developed a deep appreciation of literature and their ability to discuss authors, favourite poems and newspaper articles is most impressive.
The teaching of writing and handwriting is of a high standard in this school. Good habits in handwriting (e.g. posture, paper position, pencil grip etc.) are introduced in the infant classes. Pupils in the junior classes use specialised handwriting copybooks to ensure correct letter formation and transition from print to cursive style. As pupils progress to the middle and senior classes, they gradually move to using pens. By the time they are ready to leave the school, almost all pupils have developed a fluent and personal style of writing. Due emphasis is placed on the promotion and implementation of the writing process in all classes. Most pupils possess a very good understanding of the conventions of grammar, punctuation and spelling, which are appropriately taught in context. Pupils are taught to draft, re-draft, edit and publish their writing and they are given an appropriate degree of autonomy in choosing their writing topics. Pupils have written letters, lists, poems, fables, fairy tales, book reviews, newspaper articles and a wide range of factual and fictional narratives. The school’s involvement in the Write-a-Book Project provides an additional motivation for pupils and the samples from this year’s project observed during the evaluation were of a very high standard.
The strategies used to assess pupils’ in SPHE and English are teacher observation, teacher-designed tasks and tests, homework, regular monitoring of pupils’ written work, standardised tests and the maintenance of individual pupil portfolios.
In SPHE, folders of pupils’ work consisting of completed worksheets, writings and drawings are maintained in all classrooms. Pupils’ progress is discussed by teachers informally and at staff meetings. Project work is also used as a method of assessment. In some classes checklists are used to monitor pupils’ progress across some of the strand units. It is recommended that a whole-school approach to assessment of SPHE should now be formulated. The aim of this assessment should be to improve the learning experiences of the child. The techniques used should include the recording of teacher observations. These observations should focus on achievement, skill development and attitudes to SPHE. In addition to teacher notes, the use of checklists will assist in developing this area. Other methods of assessment that should be expanded to assess the process as well as the product of learning include teacher designed tasks and tests. Discussion on assessment should also focus on the layout of pupil profiles and on the level of detail to be included. It is important that pupils have an input into what should be retained in their portfolios. There is also a need for parental input into this process. Discussion should take place between parents and teachers regarding the assessment of individual pupils. This would facilitate the maintenance of accurate statements of pupils’ progress, strengths and weaknesses. The assessment section in the curriculum documents will give additional guidance for all of these areas.
In English, appropriate provision is made for the assessment of pupils’ progress. Standardised reading tests are administered annually and outcomes are used to screen for pupils in need of supplementary learning-support. Further diagnostic testing of the selected pupils provides the basis for identifying learning targets and developing individual profile and learning programmes. The in-class support and team teaching which takes place in the junior and middle classes could also be used as a means of further developing this approach to the assessment of learning in English. Individual teachers have developed portfolios of pupils’ writing samples and well-organised folders are maintained incorporating a range of checklists and shared-reading records. These folders could also be used to facilitate peer-assessment and pupil self-assessment thus widening the range of assessment strategies employed by the school.
The school has strengths in the following areas:
The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:
The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science wishes to acknowledge the contributions made by the principal and teachers during the course of the evaluation. It is hoped that this report will be directly useful to the school as a basis for review and development of practice at school level. It is anticipated that the composite report on the quality of teaching and learning of SPHE will serve as a valuable reference at system level and will inform the further development of policy and provision for the teaching of SPHE.
Táthar fíorbhuíoch d’fhoireann na scoile as a gcuid tacaíochta le linn na hoibre seo.