In April 2000 the Department of Education and Science approved the Junior Cycle Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) syllabus (Department of Education and Science Circular M22/00). SPHE was designed to match with and facilitate the educational principles that underpin the Junior Cycle (JC) curriculum and all post-primary schools were advised by circular (Department of Education and Science Circular M11/03) that SPHE must form part of the core curriculum of Junior Cycle by September 2003. In September 2000 the SPHE Support Service (post-primary) was put in place. The support service takes the form of a partnership between the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children and the Health Service Executive (formally the Regional Health Boards). While the development of the SPHE curriculum followed the main phases as other curricular developments, and should be interpreted within the framework of such innovations, there are key differences concerning the cross-curricular nature of the content and the need for specific training in the content and processes of SPHE for most post-primary schoolteachers.
A number of research studies have been undertaken to date that have monitored and informed the development and implementation of the SPHE Curriculum (SPHE, 2004; Burtenshaw, 2003; Geary &
Mannix-McNamara, 2002; Millar, 2003a; Millar, 2003b). All of these reports provide vital information on the operation of the SPHE Support Service and the roll out of SPHE in schools. Nevertheless, gaps remain in our knowledge and understanding of SPHE implementation. Burtenshaw (2003) indicates the need to know more about the degree of integration of SPHE at school level and the underlying mechanisms, both in terms of the outcomes of the training activities of the support services and the potential synergy between SPHE and other curricular activities.
In addition, the information collected thus far has been provided by members of the SPHE Support Service (both Health Promotion Officers and Regional Development Officers), teachers in receipt of SPHE training, SPHE teachers in school, non-SPHE teachers and Principals. Two of the key stakeholders in the SPHE process have not been involved: students and parents. It is therefore timely to include all educational stakeholders in the current investigation.