An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Civic, Social and Political Education
Hartstown Community School
Clonsilla, Dublin 15
Roll number: 91339F
Date of inspection: 29, 30 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Civic, Social and Political Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Hartstown Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Civic, Social and Political Education and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days 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, deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) is a compulsory subject in the junior cycle curriculum. It is commendable that Hartstown Community School provides one lesson per week for each of its junior cycle classes in line with syllabus requirements and guideline recommendations.
Classes are set according to ability within bands thus creating a top, middle and lower band. It is commendable that individual students are monitored closely and it is reported that movement from one level of ability to another is facilitated. First year is too early to assign students to streamed classes. Management and teaching staff are conscious of this and there has been some discussion around the issue. It is recommended that Hartstown Community School move to full mixed-ability setting in first year in the academic year 2008-09. In general, it is recommended that all CSPE classes be mixed-ability as current setting runs counter to the subject ethos.
In view of the fact that teachers meet their classes once a week for CSPE, the school is commended for its efforts to ensure that the subject teachers have contact with the group through either another curricular subject or their roles as class tutor or both. This helps teachers to get to know their classes. The school also tries to ensure continuity of teaching by deploying the same teacher with a class group over the three years of the cycle. However, timetabling constraints do not always facilitate this and during the course of the evaluation it was noted that some teachers had no contact other than one CSPE lesson per week and some also had taken over a class from another teacher who had resigned.
The school has a very large team of seventeen teachers for its twenty-one class groups. A smaller specialist team represents optimum practice. Four of the teachers teach two CSPE lessons per week and this is positive. It is commendable that efforts are made to ensure that those who teach the subject have an interest in doing so and have, ideally, past experience. The practical demands of timetabling do not always guarantee that those who teach CSPE either wish to, or have experience of teaching CSPE and have training in the area, or have any advance knowledge that they may be doing so when they return to school in September of the academic year. It is acknowledged that there are very real practical considerations and challenges in timetabling one period a week for each of the twenty-one classes. However, it takes a number of years to build up subject expertise in CSPE because, over a three-year cycle, teachers can only teach the subject for seventy hours at the very most. A small core team of subject teachers with a good range of experience is highly desirable. This should be the school’s goal as the key area for the development of CSPE.
It is commendable that the school is very supportive of continuous professional development (CPD) and CSPE teachers have been facilitated to avail of in-service. For example, three staff members have attended courses that were provided by the CSPE support services this academic year and it is reported that others have attended in the past. In addition to subject specific training, teachers have also availed of training in general pedagogical areas. Teachers report back to the rest of the team when they have completed CPD courses. It is very commendable that a CSPE teacher provided a workshop for the rest of the team on the subject of Action Projects. This represents an excellent level of collegiality and support since the sharing of knowledge and good practice assists all teachers and affords opportunities for useful professional dialogue.
Another way that the school supports teachers of the subject is through the appointment of a subject co-ordinator. This is commended since the co-ordinator meets each teacher individually, issues each with a pack for the subject, discusses relevant issues and generally supports the teacher. It is particularly valuable in view of the high level of staff turnover in the subject. The co-ordinator is an assistant principal who combines the role with other responsibilities but does not at present teach the subject. This should be reviewed since it is desirable that the co-ordinator should have regular contact with the subject.
Resources for CSPE are good and there is a room designated for their storage. Audio-visual equipment and overhead projectors are available. These should be easily accessible to all teachers of the subject irrespective of location in the school. Some teachers are classroom based and this is very positive since it facilitates storage for a resource intensive subject. However, for those who are peripatetic, resources within classrooms and wall space for displays should be shared equitably. It is of particular importance since some CSPE teachers are relatively new to the school and therefore are less likely to have a designated classroom. The department should carry out a survey of classrooms in which the subject is taught to determine the range and accessibility of facilities and audio-visual resources for the subject. In addition, clear guidelines should be issued to all staff regarding the sharing of resources. It is commendable that a designated CSPE notice board is provided for the subject in the staffroom since a large volume of information needs to be regularly disseminated to the large teaching team.
Information and communications technology (ICT) facilities and resources are quite good. The school has two computer rooms that can be booked. First-year and second-year classes have an ICT period on the timetable and the CSPE teachers can liaise with the ICT teacher and arrange cross-disciplinary work. The widespread usage of ICT for research by both teachers and students is praiseworthy. The department needs to move towards the further integration of ICT into the teaching and learning of CSPE and it is recommended that good practice already identified in the department be shared.
Students with special educational needs or those with additional language needs are supported through the deployment of SNAs, and there is good liaison with the learning-support and language-support departments. Additional support is given to students who require assistance writing up their action projects for the Junior Certificate examination.
The school has a students’ council. The council’s procedures are designed to be as representative as possible and to ensure a wide degree of consultation so that the voice of all students is represented and heard. The clear links with CSPE and the considered way in which students are encouraged to participate represent good practice.
The school is highly commended for promoting an ethos that is supportive of the subject. For example, the Parents’ Handbook includes a short description of CSPE along with all other curricular subjects and both the handbook and student journal include a UNICEF meditation that expresses the core concepts of CSPE. The subject is also explained at the open night that is organised for the parents of incoming first-year students. In addition, student achievement is celebrated and an article on a junior cycle Fair Trade project will be published in the school magazine. Moreover, it is reported that in the past, students’ CSPE project work has been publicised on the school website. The school corridor has pictures and information on well-known Irish political figures and all of the past Presidents of Ireland. The subject is included in the Christmas and summer progress reports and parents can consult teachers at the annual parent-teacher meetings for each group. To build on these good practices, it is recommended that the school as a whole celebrates designated days such as Earth Day and Holocaust Day with specific events or publicity campaigns and that, in general, an awareness of the seven concepts that underpin CSPE (Democracy, Development, Human Dignity, Interdependence, Law, Rights and Responsibilities and Stewardship) is promoted on an ongoing basis. A designated notice board prominently located at a focal point in the school would be useful in this regard.
Through action projects, students have engaged in a wide variety of activities including inviting visitors to the school and some have visited the Dáil and the offices of the European Commission.
The role of subject co-ordinator is clearly defined. Formal subject department meetings are infrequent, once or twice each year at most, with extraordinary meetings from time to time as occasion demands. The reason for infrequency is attributed to the size of the department. It is recommended that the full department meet more often to ensure a greater degree of collaborative planning. Agendas, agreed by the team, should be set. Accurate, full and formal minutes of meetings should be kept and these should be clearly dated. Smaller working groups could be established to focus on specific targets and report back to the plenary meeting.
The subject plan is a brief summary of the syllabus and it records methodologies drawn from syllabus guidelines. It is commendable that reference is made to the students’ council. Of late, a draft policy discussion document on CSPE has been formulated. This concise document repeats the general syllabus aims and objectives from the department plan, briefly outlines standard classroom procedures and includes a note on textbooks and brief points on assessment policy among other items of information. It is commendable that there is more detail on assessment procedures in relation to the Report on an Action Project (RAP) and Course Work Assessment Book (CWAB) than is found in the plan for the subject. The policy document is scheduled for consultation with the department as a whole at the next meeting. As there is a degree of overlap between the plan and policy, the two should be conflated to eliminate repetition.
The plan for CSPE requires considerable elaboration. The scheme of work for each year group should be fully detailed. Learning outcomes for each year group should be fully documented. There needs to be far more detail regarding assessment. The department folder should include a policy on CPD and a list of all relevant courses attended so that future needs can be identified. Details of cross-curricular links with other subjects taught in Hartstown Community School should be outlined. Differentiation policy and procedures should be fully documented. The department should formulate an ICT policy and detail specific ways in which ICT should be integrated into the teaching and learning of CSPE. A working group within the team could develop a plan for ICT use in consultation with the department as a whole. Since access is a determining factor in frequency of use, a survey would help to inform policy. The school has both a health and safety policy and a Child Protection policy. These documents should be customised for CSPE. All planning documents should be dated and a review date should be set. The department could consider setting up an electronic folder to parallel the hardcopy. As it is necessary from time to time to hand over a class group to another teacher during the course of the three-year cycle, clear guidelines on handover procedures are desirable and the need for detailed and dated planning documents for individual class groups is all the more important.
One major action project is written up for the Junior Certificate examination but most teachers aim to do two, or even in some cases, a number of “mini” projects and this is highly commended. Students get the opportunity to incrementally build up their skills. It is advisable to document clear guidelines in relation to the number and kind of action projects and the plan should record a list of past projects. This would be helpful to teachers who are new to the subject. The department should catalogue all resources and a list of these should be included in the planning folder. Students themselves could help in this regard. A complete catalogue would assist with forward planning and would also inform teachers new to the subject of the full range available. As there is a storage room for resources and a very large number of teachers can access them, some form of tracking system is required. Teachers should sign out, date and give a brief detail of communal resources borrowed for class use. An electronic system might be possible and the department could explore possibilities in this regard.
In consideration of the need to support students in the lower range of ability, it is important to develop resources targeted at students who find learning challenging. In addition to their individual teacher’s resources, the department should consult the learning-support department and could also access information through the CSPE and Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) support sites that can be accessed through the Second Level Support Services (SLSS) website at www.slss.ie. The department could compile its own list of keywords that would be very helpful and these could be categorised under the headings, should, could and must know.
Individual teacher’s yearly schemes of work should mirror the department plan, making due allowances for individual groups and taking differentiation into account. Lesson planning should be informed by the desired learning outcomes for each year group as documented in the departmental plan.
Lesson planning was good in most cases and advance preparation of resources and activities ensured the smooth running of lessons.
Lesson time was efficiently and effectively used in almost all cases. Lessons were well structured and paced in most cases. Best practice was observed where the lesson objective was written on the board and where there was a clear understanding of the concept being learned. It is recommended that specific learning outcomes be written on the board. Instructions to students were generally clear.
An appropriate range of resources was used to promote learning in an organised and stimulating way. Very good practice was observed where the board was used to record students views in relation to local development: a “T” chart and spidergram helped to organise ideas.
A good range of methodologies was used in most lessons. Questioning strategies were used for information retrieval and to encourage students to think for themselves. While both global and targeted questions were used, in some cases there was an over reliance on the general question addressed to the class. This strategy tends to encourage the more confident and dominant students and therefore others disengage. It is recommended that more targeted questioning be used in order to ensure that all students are on task and are engaging in learning. Care should also be taken to avoid students dominating discussion. In some instances, this may involve a review of seating arrangements, perhaps with a view to reconfiguring classrooms from time to time. Students were involved in group work and this promoted collaborative learning while teachers took the opportunity to circulate, assess the effectiveness of learning and offer advice to students. Group work is also useful in preventing some students from commanding too much of the teacher’s attention.
Strategies were designed to develop a range of skills. It is very commendable that students learned and practised oral communication skills. Exemplary practice in line with syllabus aims and objectives was observed in a lesson when two well-prepared teams debated a motion relating to Ireland’s funding of foreign aid and the impact on national spending. The class group listened attentively to the arguments and participated in a floor discussion. The syllabus concept, Interdependence, was very well explored through active learning. Very good practice was also observed where students (who represented their project group) made oral presentations to the whole class reflecting the collective work of their particular groups. Handouts had also been prepared by each project group to support the oral presentation. Members of each project group had specific roles.
In addition to communication skills, students learned research skills. Writing skills were practised: for example, one class group was engaged in the completion of their RAPs for assessment in the Junior Certificate examination. The teacher circulated to offer assistance to those who needed it and to monitor progress, while at the same time ensuring that the work was the student’s own. This level of support is commended. Higher-order thinking skills were promoted in the best lessons. In a lesson observed, students were encouraged to problem solve and to devise creative solutions to hypothetical problems using their knowledge of the subject. As a preliminary to learning activity, it is useful to remind students of the skills they will be learning and practising during the course of the lesson.
It is particularly commendable that copybooks and folders of work were maintained to a high standard in many lessons observed. Students learn organisational skills in this way and have a record of handouts and assignments that they have used and completed over the junior cycle. High standards should be demanded in all classes. If necessary, sets of folders could be stored in the classroom to avoid the risk of losing materials.
The enhancement of students’ expressive vocabulary was praiseworthy, for example, the meanings of words were checked and explained. To complement this good practice, new words should be written on the board. In a lesson observed, a subject-related vocabulary list was mounted on the wall and all of the concepts were named. This is very good practice and it is recommended that subject-related keywords be displayed in all classrooms to reinforce learning. Displays could be mounted by the students themselves.
Most students came to class well prepared and had their copies and other materials. Most were purposeful in their approach to work and engaged in meaningful learning. It was clear that high expectations were set and that classroom etiquette was observed. This good practice should be extended to all. The quality of interaction between students and teachers was good on the whole. Students were forthright and articulate and showed a very good knowledge of the subject area in some lessons. However, this was in line with expectation since the classes are streamed according to ability. In the lower streams, some students were less confident and this is a matter that should be reviewed at departmental level and strategies agreed for the promotion of verbal communication skills across the ability spectrum.
The walls were well used in many classes to display subject material and students’ work and this should be extended to all classes. Some of the wall displays indicate that students have engaged very well in research projects. Subject resources such as posters were also on display in some classrooms.
Learning conditions were generally very good. Classrooms were well managed and conducive to learning in most cases. However, in a class visited, an unwarranted interruption compromised the learning atmosphere. The interruption of a lesson should only occur in exceptional circumstances and for very compelling reasons. In all lessons observed, there was an excellent rapport between students and teachers and students were supported in a caring environment.
The level of student achievement is very good for the vast majority of students. A good body of work is covered and evidence from summative assessment and from copybooks indicates that student learning is optimal and measured outcomes often exceed expectations.
The school’s homework policy is currently being developed. It is commendable that homework is set regularly in lessons. A good variety of tasks was set and these tasks stimulated student interest and encouraged initiative. Good practice was observed in lessons where the homework assignment was written on the board and students were instructed to note this down in their journals. Students should always note down assignments, be they oral or written.
CSPE students do not sit formal in-house examinations until the “mock” examinations in third year. Instead, teachers apply their own assessment procedures, either class tests or continuous assessment or a combination of both. The individual or aggregate mark is recorded in the progress reports sent home to parents. It is desirable that assessment practice be standardised to ensure greater cohesion and uniformity. It is recommended that common assessment procedures reflecting syllabus objectives are applied to all class groups, that common in-house tests are set and that common assessment criteria are agreed (for continuous and summative testing) and fully detailed in the department plan. Besides formal progress reports, communication with parents is also maintained through parent-teacher meetings and through other media including the student journal.
Procedures for the storage of the RAPs are followed. The timeframe within which the RAP is completed is left to the discretion of the individual teacher and this may often involve several lessons. The department should review present practice in this regard to ensure consistency and the efficient use of lesson time.
Formative assessment was observed in the feedback given to students both during classroom interaction and in written comments in students’ copybooks. Very conscientious assessment that was dated was noted in many cases and this is commended. The high standard of folder maintenance was observed also in some instances.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Whole-school support for the subject is good in a number of areas and the school creates a positive ethos for CSPE.
· A post-holder coordinates CSPE, has a clearly defined role, supports teachers new to the subject and ensures that all procedures are followed in relation to the completion of the RAPs for the state examination.
· A CSPE plan and draft policy have been produced
· Individual lessons were well planned and a very good range of methodologies and resources was used.
· Students learn a number of key skills.
· Students were engaged in meaningful learning in all classes visited.
· There was an excellent rapport between students and teachers in all classes visited.
· Student achievement is very good.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The school should move towards the building of a smaller teaching team in order to develop subject expertise.
· There should be more formal meetings and more formal collaborative planning.
· The plan for the subject needs to be fully developed.
· Mixed-ability setting should be introduced into all first-year classes in 2008-09 and ideally, all CSPE classes should be taught in a mixed-ability setting to reflect the subject’s ethos.
· CSPE assessment practice and policy needs to be standardised.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Civic, Social and Political Education and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published October 2008