Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE)

SPHE was introduced as part of the revised primary school curriculum in 1999. The SPHE Teacher Guidelines (1999) outline that the curriculum “provides particular opportunities to foster the personal development and well-being of the child and to help him/her to create and maintain supportive relationships and become an active and responsible citizen in society” (SPHE Teacher Guidelines, 1999: 2).

SPHE incorporates key life skills education for children which can have far reaching effects on their ability to contribute positively to and cope with everyday situations in school, at home and in their communities. Self-esteem enhancement (a key underpinning principle in the SPHE curriculum) is supported in a wide range of literature. Skills development such as assertiveness and personal safety skills have garnered widespread support on foot of research on the prevalence of bullying in primary schools (e.g. Irish Health Behaviour in School-aged Children, 2006) and reports on child sexual abuse (e.g. Commission to Report into Child Abuse, 2009; Commission of Investigation into Catholic Diocese of Cloyne, 2011) in Ireland.

Children’s right to a voice is upheld in the United Nations Charter of Children’s Rights (UNCRC, 1989), while their right to equal participation in education (regardless of ability) is also enshrined in the same instrument. More recently, the NCCA consultation process on the primary school curriculum (2012: vii) highlighted top priorities around life skills, communication (including children’s voice and self-expression) and psychological well-being. In addition, the NEPS Well-being in Primary Schools Guidelines will add further impetus to the implementation of curricula such as SPHE.

The curriculum involves three strands.

The first, “Myself” addresses aspects of identity. The aim is to develop self-awareness and confidence through an exploration of emotions, safety strategies, decision-making processes, physical health, fitness and diet, and growth and development over time, including puberty and reproduction.

The second strand, “Myself and Others”, invites children to consider their social experience exploring the supportive role of family, friend and community in their lives. Skills for maintaining friendships, maintaining good communication and resolving conflicts are taught.

The third strand, “Myself and the Wider World” invites children to explore their position in the world. It involves a critical approach to media influences. It introduces children to the concept of democracy in practical ways. UN Instruments such as the Declaration on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child are explored. Ultimately this strand invites children to the position of global citizen.

The SPHE Network

The SPHE Network was founded in 2000 by Bernie Collins (St. Patrick’s College) and Carol O’Sullivan (Mary Immaculate College). It has grown significantly since then with membership from many different organisations and groups.

The diversity in terms of membership reflects the multiplicity and complexity of the Social, Personal and Health Education curriculum. The Network addresses many different issues relating to SPHE with a view to facilitating its ongoing development as an integral part of both the primary and post-primary curricula.

We embrace an advocacy role and endeavour to highlight issues and concerns relating to SPHE in a variety of public fora. We view SPHE as becoming increasingly important in a society where children and young people are confronted with many challenges to their health and wellbeing.

The provision of CPD to members is an important part of our agenda and we use the capacity both within the Network and externally to inform and up-skill our members. We have an active research portfolio and details of research undertaken by our members are available on this website.

We work in a spirit of partnership, co-operation and collaboration and our meetings are always well attended with lively and stimulating discussions and debate. We welcome new members and an application for membership can be found on the website.

Chair of the SPHE Network
Dr. Margaret Nohilly lectures in Mary Immaculate College of Education in the area of Policy
and Leadership, SPHE and Lifeskills. She is a graduate of the Bachelor of Education
programme in Mary Immaculate and also worked for a number of years with the PDST
where she was the team leader for the Health and Wellbeing team. Margaret completed her
doctorate in the area of Child Protection. Her research interests include Child Protection,
Wellbeing and SPHE related areas.

Co-founder of the SPHE Network & Treasurer

Dr. Bernie Collins is a lecturer in SPHE in the Institute of Education, DCU (formerly St.
Patrick’s College). She was previously the National Coordinator for the Walk Tall
programme, and was on the the editorial team for its recent revision (2016). Bernie has
been involved in two pilot projects recently, one in relation to Equality Reviews in primary
schools (for the Equality Authority), and the All Together Now! pilot project to tackle
homophobic and transphobic bullying in primary schools (funded by the DES and in
partnership with BeLonG To Youth Services). Her research interests include circle time and
mindfulness in Irish primary school.

Secretary

Dr. Anne Marie Kavanagh lectures in Ethical and Intercultural Education in DCU Institute of
Education. Before working in teacher education, she taught a range of multi-grade classes
in Rathgar National School, Dublin 6. She is a member of the Centre for Human Rights and
Citizenship Education and The Children’s Rights Alliance. Her research interests include
ethical education, critical multicultural education, Education about Religions and Beliefs
(ERB), democratic education, human rights education, global citizenship education and
Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE).

Co-founder of the SPHE Network

Carol O’Sullivan is a lecturer in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) in Mary
Immaculate College, Limerick. Her research interests include: Implementation of the SPHE
Curriculum; Impact of Life Skills programmes on the personal and professional development
of student teachers; Current educational policy in the context of a multicultural society; and
Citizenship Education. Carol has contributed to many publications and conferences and to
the development of resources for SPHE.

Terms of Reference for the SPHE Network

  • To provide a forum where representatives from many different organisations can meet and discuss issues relating to the provision of a comprehensive programme of Social, Personal and Health Education to both student and practicing teachers
  • To contribute to the ongoing development of Social, Personal and Health Education as an integral part of both the primary and post-primary curricula
  • To share information in relation to current research and publications in relation to Social, Personal and Health Education
  • To undertake and/or commission research in relation to the implementation and impact of Social, Personal and Health Education
  • To adopt an advocacy role in relation to the support and resourcing required for the effective implementation of Social, Personal and Health Education at primary, post-primary and at third level.