An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Civic, Social and Political Education
Christian Brothers School, Mount Sion
Roll number: 64930I
Date of inspection: 22 November 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Civic, Social and Political Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in CBS Mount Sion, Waterford. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day 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 to the subject teachers. The board of management was given the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.
Christian Brothers School (CBS), Mount Sion is the oldest CBS school in the world. As such it is a school steeped in educational, religious, sporting and cultural traditions and has had a huge influence historically on shaping the youth of Waterford city. While both the school catchment area and its enrolment have changed hugely in recent decades, its support for CSPE continues to reflect the proud traditions of serving a community’s needs for over two centuries.
As a post-primary school, Mount Sion appropriately places CSPE as a compulsory subject on its junior cycle curriculum. All junior classes are timetabled for one forty-minute period per week which, over the duration of the three-year junior cycle, satisfactorily fulfils the requirements of the CSPE syllabus. The subject currently has a teaching team of two, with each having three and four classes respectively for CSPE every week. This has enabled the development of an easy collaborative spirit between the subject teachers and has also helped to make CSPE a significant element in the timetable of each. This, and the fact that each teacher has attested to being happy to teach CSPE without persuasion, has placed the overall provision for the subject on a very sound footing.
In some instances, teachers of CSPE have their class for another subject as well. This is in line with past departmental circulars and facilitates the organisation of action projects and the timetable flexibility which can be helpful in undertaking such projects. In the majority of instances, the CSPE teacher does not have the class for another subject. However, this has not been allowed to become a problem for teachers as they have been able to support each other’s work in instances where both teachers have the same class group, one for CSPE and the other for a related subject, such as History. In addition, there is clearly very strong cross-curricular support for CSPE, with frequent links made with other subject teachers in Art, information and communication technology (ICT), and English among others. Thus, the fact that individual CSPE teachers may not have their class for another subject has not been felt to be a drawback to subject delivery in any significant way and, if anything, is felt within the school to have enhanced the sense of collective responsibility for the delivery of the school’s citizenship programme. This is further extended by the fact that the student council, while obviously supported by the work done within CSPE on elections and democracy, has a non-CSPE teacher as its staff-liaison teacher and has representatives from every class in the school.
Management support for the subject otherwise is equally satisfactory. CSPE has an annual budget allocation, like other subjects, but additional funds can be accessed if needs merit their use. CSPE teachers have been loud in their praise of the school’s secretarial staff members, who very positively facilitate CSPE-related work such as photocopying and laminating. The school has made sets of CSPE textbooks available for class use as students require, has ensured that the subject is included in students’ report forms and that CSPE teachers are given desks at all relevant parent-teacher meetings. A fine example of the role played by management in furthering the profile of CSPE occurred recently when, not only did the school participate in the recent Big Ballot run by the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman, but the principal also took time to accompany the students attending the national count.
Although there are at present just two teachers of CSPE in the school, they have been successful in forming a departmental structure with a designated subject co-ordinator in place. Meetings occur on a relatively informal level but do so frequently, with discussions centring around teaching and learning. This is highly commended. The department has developed a fine subject plan, with the only suggestion of note for its possible augmentation being the inclusion of a list of resources available, so that any teacher coming new to CSPE might be facilitated in accessing such resources in the future. However, the huge bank of resources which has been collected is fully accessible to teachers anyway and the department’s concerns that there may be, if anything, a surplus of such resource materials arriving from multiple sources at present, are noted. Beyond that, it is refreshing to see the emphasis in departmental planning on the core task of delivering the subject in a syllabus-relevant and student-friendly manner in the classroom. The plan also contains lists of action projects undertaken, copies of departmental circulars and other materials related to examinations and appropriate cross-curricular links. A fine record in which comparisons are drawn between students’ performance in state examinations in CSPE and relevant national statistics has also been maintained.
The department has adopted its own CSPE mission statement, using a tree logo which has been developed by students in conjunction with the art department. The mission statement is in keeping with general CSPE philosophy but is very school-specific as well, with a clever motto of ‘CSPE – Have a Go; It’ll Grow on You’. To say that departmental planning has helped to establish CSPE on an equal footing with other junior cycle subjects at the school is no exaggeration. Also highly commended has been the department’s involvement in the development of a resource pack on CSPE and local democracy, in conjunction with Waterford City Council, and the fact that one of the school’s students won the British Isles Citizen of the Year title a few years ago. It is further noted that both CSPE teachers in Mount Sion are members of the Association of Citizenship Teachers (ACT) but report that, to date, local efforts to form a branch of ACT have not been successful beyond some sessions on examination-relevant topics.
Within the department’s modus operandi, minutes of meetings held and decisions reached are maintained. The co-ordinator takes responsibility for matters pertaining to the State Examinations Commission (SEC), including the storage of Reports on Action Projects appropriately. A common approach to syllabus delivery has been agreed, with the different concepts of the course identified and dealt with in an incremental fashion. The department has decided, for example, that first-year classes will focus on Rights and Responsibilities and Human Dignity, with second-year classes covering Stewardship, Development and the Law and third-year groups dealing with Democracy and Interdependence. The department has also created a CSPE ‘wall’ with management’s support, and has exciting plans for its development via a mural which identifies the seven concepts of the syllabus in artistic form. A poster committee has also been formed, dedicated to the development and display of subject-related posters, with the results of the committee’s labours being evident in many areas of the school. These are excellent ideas and attest to the very high degree of collaborative planning which has been engaged in by CSPE teachers and to the manner in which the school generally has engaged with the citizenship agenda.
Planning and preparation for individual CSPE lessons has been very impressive. Resources have been deployed with discretion and a fine awareness of the need to balance resources with teacher-student interaction and engagement has been evident. Desk layout in most classrooms was conducive to student engagement and, where necessary, good planning ensured that desk and student movement for group-work and pair-work exercises happened very smoothly. Classrooms were very well decorated in print-rich and visual materials relevant to CSPE. All lesson planning observed was fully syllabus relevant and took account of what could realistically be achieved within the confines of one forty-minute lesson per week. Much agreement has also been reached on more micro planning, including the deployment of mini-action projects with first-year classes to help develop relevant skills, the timing of major action project work and the use of a news round-up at the outset of every lesson in order to maintain students’ awareness of current issues.
In terms of possible suggestions for future consideration in planning, it would certainly be worthwhile for the school to include CSPE in its overall school plan when time permits, not least because the subject has been very central to school life over the years. The possibilities of using CSPE as a vehicle for the development of an overall school policy on the integration of newcomer students should also be explored, again when time permits, as the practical manner in which such students have been supported during the delivery of CSPE lessons themselves has been very noticeable. These are merely suggestions for future directions, with a view to enhancing general school planning via the messages being given through CSPE, which are very supportive of the overall school mission and ethos.
In all classrooms visited, whether students came in after direction from the teacher or were present in advance, a pleasant orderly atmosphere was evident. Students who entered the classrooms after the teacher clearly knew where to sit and also what the normal procedures were at the outset of the lesson. The generic deployment of a news roundup in all lessons visited, part of the previously mentioned collaborative approach to teaching CSPE, was very successful in opening proceedings. Students were asked to report on news items from the recent past, either from written records or spontaneously, with the written strategy perhaps being worthy of use in further classes where the designated reporter may be shy. Students reported very well on a range of issues which had occurred in recent days, ranging from political to sporting and economic matters. Evident in this process was the fact that the teachers accepted news items relating to sport, such as the European Football Championship qualifying results or contacts with a local All-Star hurler with exactly the same degree of importance as they did more ‘weighty’ items. This was a great support to the efforts of what are, after all, young students. Teachers invariably used these responses to reinforce, for all students, whether such items were of local, national or international import, thereby seamlessly reminding them of the different units of study germane to CSPE itself.
A wide but not excessive use of resources was evident in the lessons visited, with the emphasis remaining quite firmly on student-teacher interaction and on students taking action for themselves. Resources used included sets of prompt cards and keywords on the right of people to access leisure time, coloured card packs containing texts and visuals to be matched around the theme of human rights, a Waterford Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals resource pack and a set of class text books. A reproduction of a passport was most productively used to both develop discussion on the right to travel and also highlight the multicultural nature of a class group itself in a most positive manner. On occasion, use was also made of sets of state examination papers for short in-class tasks, as well as sets of handout-based tasks which were appropriately stored by students in recycled envelopes for revision purposes. Some use was made of visual displays around the classroom, while the whiteboard was employed simply and effectively as a visual reinforcement of key issues for students. Where this latter support was used in tandem with short note-making tasks, as was the case in most lessons, this made sense as an additional reinforcement of learning and an aid to retention. This has been recommended for more widespread use if practicable, particularly where central headings and issues are concerned.
A healthy, balanced approach to active learning was evident in the lessons observed. Where involvement in an action project formed part of some classes, it was very evident that students had been urged to organise as much of the work as possible for themselves, with teacher guidance but not dictation. For example, the projects being worked on, whether dealing with animal rights or a mock election, had seen the formation of committees and the assignment of tasks ranging from letter writing to minute taking and seeking sponsorship. Where students may have come up with an idea for a project which could have management difficulties for themselves down the line, it is suggested that this should be let run its course anyway, time permitting, as allowing them to make mistakes can be one of the most effective ways of assisting students to learn from such activity. Students in a younger class group were asked to develop a set of class rules using the principles of rights and responsibilities they had discussed in CSPE, with great support being given to their work by means of the teacher getting all students to sign the end result and having it laminated for display purposes. An excellent emphasis on the development of students’ self confidence was noted, including training in how to conduct a survey or election from class to class, overcoming personal inhibitions in the process. It is also commended that developing self-confidence has been taken on board as one of the main branches, literally, of the CSPE mission statement. As previously intimated, group work and pair work were employed very productively as further means of encouraging active learning, with students both enjoying such tasks and participating in them very proactively. Whether asked to discuss issues among themselves, move desks or come to the board as reporters, all students engaged in such tasks very positively. The only recommendation of note in the context of group work is that it is quite acceptable for disagreement to occur where groups are asked to place issues under appropriate headings and that, indeed, such disagreement can be very productive in promoting debate.
In all lessons, teachers made considerable and productive efforts to link the material being covered to the relevant concepts of the CSPE syllabus and to students’ own experiences. Discussion of the issue of access to leisure was linked to both the recent Big Ballot in which students had participated, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights displayed on the classroom wall and ultimately to the concept of rights and responsibilities. Similarly, discussion of recycling issues in Dublin was skilfully redirected towards the school’s and the classroom’s own recycling policies, hence linking also to the concept of stewardship. Students’ reports on a local traffic accident were aligned to the concept of law by the teacher getting them to make the connection themselves, while the issue of disability where it arose in a discussion of rights was very sensitively connected to the personal experiences of class members. Excellent connections were also drawn by teachers with examination issues where possible. Short in-class tasks on past examination papers were used to punctuate one lesson, while some excellent advice was also given in relation to students needing to express an opinion and avoid negative, throw-away comments in question answering. In one lesson, a thirty-second set of recapitulation questions on the Junior Certificate paper format helped not only to give students a short break from lesson content but also, naturally, to focus their minds on vital examination-answering requirements.
While a fine emphasis on ensuring that students knew relevant factual content, such as the names of government ministers, has been noted, the focus on learning outcomes in CSPE lessons observed went much further than this. Wherever practicable, teachers urged students to draw comparisons and contrasts between their own actions, such as organising a mock election to find the world’s best soccer player, and matters relating to democratic elections in general. Regardless of the topic or concept being dealt with, a clear effort was made by teachers to get students to consider what they, their school, community or country could do to tackle different issues. Great emphasis was also placed on ensuring that students considered the differences between solving problems and raising awareness about them. When questioned, even the youngest of students showed a clear grasp of key CSPE issues, such as the difference between rights and needs, or the complexities created by health and safety requirements when rights and responsibilities collide. It was eminently clear that learning had taken place in all lessons observed and that this was learning which included awareness of relevant facts but also deeper learning around skills and attitudes which are central to the aims and objectives of CSPE.
Whole-school supports for assessment in CSPE have already been touched on via reference to the status given to the subject at parent-teacher meetings and in reports home. It is also commendable that CSPE is assessed within the school’s examination structures in exactly the same manner as other subjects. Christmas and summer tests are held for CSPE classes, with third-year classes sitting pre-examinations in CSPE during the spring each year. In addition to providing good support for formal assessment in this manner, there is also little doubt that such regularity facilitates the promotion of CSPE as a significant element in the junior curriculum.
Within the domain of the subject itself, a number of very positive features of assessment have been identified. For one thing, teachers maintain clear records of student attendance and also of the reasons why students may have missed a lesson. This is quite important in the context of having just one period per week in which to deliver any subject. Much of the informal assessment within lessons related to the use of oral questioning, with a good mix of questions relating to factual and more concept-driven issues. Where students were given group-based or pair-working tasks, teachers monitored and thereby assessed progress by moving around the room in some instances and by questioning on progress made with the task in all classes. As previously intimated, the structured and student-centred approach taken by teachers to students’ work on action projects is a very important support to the completion of the coursework element of the course, which is accorded 60% of the examination mark overall.
Where homework of a written nature was assigned, it was wholly appropriate to the content of the lesson which had just concluded and also to the syllabus. Some very interesting variations on such homework were noted, with snakes and ladders games, wordsearch tasks and letter-writing all productively employed. Written homework was not universally assigned but, where it was not, sensible alternatives tailored to the needs of students were adopted. These included the requirement of students to read newspapers and listen to news bulletins in coming days, or to take leadership roles in developing answers for oral reproduction on either news round-up or examination questions. A very useful form of self-assessment within a class was also seen where students were asked to complete and file away a sheet which identified ‘Things I Have Done’ in the particular lesson. Again, the emphasis in all such assessment tasks assigned was on meeting the needs and ability levels of different student groups, which is applauded.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· CSPE is given the required amount of time on the timetable at Mount Sion and a small, core team of interested teachers has been created to deliver the subject.
· Whole-school resourcing and supports for CSPE are excellent.
· Departmental planning has been thorough and collaborative, with a central focus on enhancing teaching and learning.
· Individual planning and preparation by teachers is very satisfactory.
· An excellent standard of teaching and learning has been observed in CSPE at Mount Sion, with particular reference to the engagement of students and the development of skills, attitudes and knowledge simultaneously.
· A sensible balance is maintained between the use of resources and active methodology, and the awareness that students will all ultimately sit examinations in CSPE.
· Assessment measures, both at whole-school and subject-specific levels, are thorough and appropriate to the needs of CSPE and of a varied student cohort.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The inclusion of a CSPE policy within the overall school plan, identifying the subject’s relevance to supporting newcomer students at the school, would be worthwhile.
· Occasional recommendations have been made in classroom contexts concerning the value of encouraging student note-making and discussion a little further.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of CSPE and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The Board of Management wishes to acknowledge the Inspection Report and is very pleased that it affirms the excellent work of the C.S.P.E team in Mount Sion. The school authorities are also delighted to have participated in the very first C.S.P.E Inspection carried out in our schools.