Purpose – Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is mandated in all Irish schools. This study aims to illuminate the perceived value and quality of SPHE and to document facilitators of successful implementation.Design/methodology/approach – A case study approach was taken, where 713 pupils, 968 parents and 49 teachers and other staff across a stratified random sample of 12 schools completed questionnaires and participated in interviews and focus groups. Data were integrated at the school level and subsequently across schools.Findings – Stakeholders generally agreed on the worth of SPHE. However, its perceived value relative to other areas of the curriculum varied by school context. Facilitators for successful implementation included training for teachers, inclusion of SPHE in school planning and evaluation processes, and organisational support for SPHE via timetabling and resource management within schools.Research limitations/implications – Case studies were useful for investigating implementation at school level, but replication with more schools, across contexts, is warranted. Parental knowledge was limited and response rates from parents were in general low.Practical implications – During planning, implementation and evaluation it appears to be crucial to recognise and respond meaningfully to existing contexts within schools. Given the methodologies of SPHE, the delivery of innovation across the whole school curriculum could be led and supported by more fully embracing this compulsory development.Originality/value – The paper illustrates the value of exploring implementation at school level through the involvement of a range of educational stakeholders. It documents crucial success factors for schools and health educators, particularly in the context of the introduction of compulsory health education.