An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Civic, Social and Political Education
Saint Mary’s Secondary School
Ballina, County Mayo
Roll number: 64520M
Date of inspection: 13 & 14 May 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 Saint Mary’s Secondary School, Ballina. 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 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 and to the 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.
St. Mary’s Secondary school is an all girls post-primary school under the trusteeship of CEIST. CSPE is a compulsory subject on the junior cycle curriculum and is allocated one class period per week in each of the junior cycle years. Class periods are of thirty five of forty minutes duration and this time allocation is broadly in line with syllabus recommendations. Classes are timetabled on particular days of the week and at times during the school day which have reduced the possibility of losing lessons on a regular basis due to interruptions on the school calendar. School management makes concerted efforts to ensure that classes retain the same teacher throughout the junior cycle. This good practice is commended as it allows continuity in programme planning. In some instances teachers of CSPE have their class group for another subject. This provision is encouraged in Circular M13/05 as it facilitates the organisation of action projects and allows teachers flexibility in arranging contact time with their class groups particularly when undertaking action projects. Whilst acknowledging the constraints of timetabling it is recommended that this provision be extended to class groups wherever possible.
School management supports the implementation and delivery of CSPE and displayed an enthusiasm for the subject as an essential element of the general education of students. The importance and value attached to promoting and facilitating citizenship education is evident in the provision of a Young Social Innovators module in TY. CSPE is listed in the school prospectus and the subject is discussed at the parent information seminar during the school transfer programme. The involvement of parents is further enlisted by inviting parents who are members of relevant voluntary and professional organisations as guest speakers to the school. On occasion the school’s newsletter and the local press feature articles on the school’s involvement in civic and social projects and CSPE initiatives. This is lauded and is further encouraged as a means of promoting the profile of CSPE and informing the broader community on the many worthwhile projects undertaken by the students.
CSPE benefits from a very good level of resource provision. While there is no specific budget facility for CSPE, resources are provided by school management as needs arise. Teachers expressed satisfaction with the level of resources provided by the CSPE support service and the range of support materials available on online. It is commended that a dedicated resource room has been made available to the CSPE teaching team to facilitate the storage of resources. The school has good information and communication technologies (ICT) facilities; however there can be difficulties for the CSPE teachers in accessing these facilities due to the demands of other programmes and subjects. Some of the CPSE teachers have their own laptops and the planned provision by management of a laptop to all teachers by September 2008 is a welcome development. It is recommended that a dedicated data projector be made available to the CSPE department and that the CSPE teachers be accommodated in accessing the school’s computer room. These provisions would greatly facilitate the increased use of ICT as a means of supporting teaching and learning in the subject.
School management encourages the continuing professional (CPD) of teachers. Financial support is provided for membership of professional associations and the CSPE teachers have been facilitated to attend in-service seminars provided by the CSPE support service. The subject co-ordinator is a member of the Association of Citizenship Teachers (ACT) and this is commended. School management has also organised whole school professional development events in areas relevant to CSPE including European Studies, child protection guidelines and anti-bullying. This is highly commended.
There are very good supports in place for the induction of teachers new to CSPE. The co-ordinator acts as a mentor to these teachers on an ongoing basis. They are provided with all relevant resource materials, the subject plan is discussed and explained and subject colleagues are also available to support and advise them. This good practice is lauded and was positively acknowledged by teachers new to CSPE.
There are currently nine teachers on the CSPE teaching team and they form an effective subject department. A strong spirit of collegiality characterises their work and they are engaged in collaborative planning for the delivery and development of the subject in the school. Subject department planning is supported by school management with the provision of planning time. There are also regular informal planning discussions among teachers as the need arises. In line with best practice the minutes of formal meetings are recorded.
One teacher acts as co-ordinator of the CSPE department and carries out this role in a competent manner. This role should be rotated among the CSPE teachers in order to enhance collective responsibility for the subject and to share the responsibility involved in co-ordination of the department. It is also recommended that membership of ACT be continued by the CSPE teaching team.
The CSPE teachers have developed a subject department plan which outlines an agreed teaching programme for each year group based on the concept approach to the delivery of the syllabus. This programme indicates the concepts to be studied in each of the junior-cycle years and the general course materials employed by teachers to support their delivery. It is appropriate that a twelve week module is the recommended timeframe to be assigned to each concept. It was reported that teachers have developed more detailed short-term schemes of work for their respective class groups and a number of these were made available during the inspection. This is good practice and such plans are encouraged in all cases. In order to build on the good work achieved to date in subject planning it is recommended that the subject department plan include the expected learning outcomes that pertain to curriculum content and the modes of assessment employed to establish students’ progress in the subject.
There is clear evidence of effective planning for the acquisition and storage of resources. The CSPE teachers have developed and compiled a comprehensive range of resource materials to support the teaching of syllabus concepts. This practice is highly commended and further encouraged as it promotes the sharing of practice, experience and expertise amongst CSPE team members. The CSPE teachers are informed of all new developments in the subject as the co-ordinator disseminates all official documentation and materials from the CSPE Support Service and other agencies to the CSPE teaching team. Subject specific resources are catalogued and it is suggested that this inventory list be placed in the subject department plan. This will enable teachers to readily identify resources that may be appropriate for teaching particular topics and will also assist in identifying future resource needs within the department.
High quality teaching and learning was observed during the course of the evaluation. Lessons were well structured, generally conducted at an appropriate pace and presented in a student-centred manner. Standard routines were a feature of all lessons which communicated high expectations for learning. Lessons commenced with a roll call, the aim of the lesson was clearly stated and homework was corrected and concluded with suitable homework being assigned.
There was clear evidence of extensive short-term planning for lessons. Teachers had prepared a variety of resource materials to support teaching and learning and included the use of worksheets, posters, handouts, Ballina town plan, a puzzle, matching exercises, fairtrade products and a video on fairtrade banana production. The use of these effectively maintained student engagement in the learning process and also catered for the range of learning styles found within the mixed-ability setting. The work involved in preparing and compiling resources is to be commended.
Active learning methodologies and the continual engagement of students featured notably in lessons. This was achieved through the employment of a range of strategies which required students to explore and discuss issues through the use of worksheets and group-based activities. In some lessons the learning context was directly linked to the students’ direct experience and the local environment. This practice is highly commended as it provided for a relevant learning experience whereby students came to a clear and meaningful understanding of the issues under study. For example, the concept of Stewardship was linked to what students could do to reduce, reuse and recycle the contents of their lunch box. The concept of development was also very creatively presented, explored and debated using a proposed parking project for the town of Ballina as the focus for discussion.
Teacher instruction was clear and the key learning points were well developed and reinforced. All topics were firmly set within the key concepts of the CSPE syllabus and there was an appropriate focus on the development of students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes in line with syllabus recommendations. Lessons were delivered in a lively and interesting manner with an emphasis on the active participation of students. Appropriate fora were created for students to discuss issues and contribute their opinions and suggestions. Group work was an integral part of the lessons observed and provided students with an opportunity to share experiences and learn from each other. Teachers moved around the classroom monitoring progress and offering support and affirmation to students during these activities. The students willingly engaged in the planned learning activities and clearly enjoyed their involvement in these active learning methodologies. They worked diligently in their groups and in the report back on the outcomes of their work they showed a good awareness and understanding of the issues.
There was an appropriate focus on subject specific terminology; key terms were well explained and reinforced as they were encountered in lessons. In one class students have compiled a glossary of new terms in their folders. This practice is commended and is encouraged in all cases as a means of supporting students’ literacy development in the subject. It also recommended that lists of key words pertinent to the various concepts be displayed in a strategic location in the classroom as these concepts are being taught. It is suggested that the production of such lists with matching visuals be incorporated into the small scale project work undertaken by students. The CSPE teachers have established formal links with the school’s learning-support teacher, the latter of whom develops simplified versions of key CSPE terms for use with students. The learning support teacher also provides additional help to students where deemed necessary. Other mechanisms implemented by CSPE teachers in supporting students with additional educational needs include the strategic grouping of students of different abilities and involving students in specific aspects of action projects suited to their needs and abilities. These provisions are commended.
In line with syllabus requirements the subject plan refers to the completion of two action projects by students over the three years of the junior cycle. The students have completed a commendable diversity of class, school and community-based action projects including the production of an anti-bullying drama, the development of a school shrub garden, an investigation of the difference between the west and east of Ireland in terms of breast check and a visit to a local nursing home during which students provided food and entertainment. These action projects were well planned and entailed the active participation of students in learning by doing. This approach is in line with best practice and the aims of the CSPE syllabus.
In some cases classrooms were well decorated with posters depicting the seven course concepts, students’ project work and in one case a small photo gallery. These provisions are commended and further encouraged. Notwithstanding the fact that classrooms are student based there is scope for the enhancement of the physical learning environment of some classrooms through the display of CSPE related materials. Students should be encouraged to contribute articles from the print media, an exercise which would also help to keep them informed on topical local and global events relevant to CSPE.
Classroom management was excellent. Group work was carried out in a competent manner with students forming in their groups with the minimum of disruption. There was a warm and supportive relationship between teacher and students characterised by mutual respect. Students readily engaged with all classroom activities and contributed with ease and enthusiasm to discussions. The teachers’ interest and commitment to the subject was evident and this positively impacted on the students’ engagement and their attitude to the subject.
It was evident from class discussions, action projects and interaction with the inspector that the students had acquired a very good knowledge of the topics studied in CSPE. A sample of copybooks viewed during the evaluation indicated that work has been completed on a range of concepts. In some classes students had compiled their work in folders and this was appropriately filed in relation to the various concepts. These folders were neatly presented and contained both students’ written work and supplementary materials on topics provided by teachers. This practice is commended and encouraged in all classes as a means of assisting students in storing and organising lesson materials over the three years of the junior cycle.
CSPE is assessed in line with other subjects within the school’s examination structures. Formal assessments take place at Christmas and at the end of the school year. It is suggested that marks are awarded in end of term assessments for students written and project work undertaken during the term and for their participation in class activities. Third year classes sit pre-examinations during the second term. Student progress in CSPE is reported on in school reports and student progress in the subject is discussed at annual parent-teacher meetings held for each year group.
There was ongoing informal assessment of students’ understanding of CSPE concepts and issues in the lessons observed. Students were frequently questioned throughout lessons and were challenged by higher order questions to reflect and analyse issues. As students completed practical tasks the teachers circulated among students monitoring their progress. It was evident that homework tasks of an appropriate variety are regularly set to achieve the objectives of the CSPE syllabus. In all cases where homework was assigned it was appropriate to the content of the lesson.
It was evident from an examination of some students’ copybooks that they are provided with informative feedback by their teachers on their draft reports on the action project in preparation for writing the final report. These provisions are in line with ‘assessment for learning’ (AfL) principles and are commended and encouraged as a means of empowering students to improve the quality of their work.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· CSPE is given the required amount of time on the timetable and classes are held at appropriate times.
· Classes usually retain the same teacher throughout the junior cycle.
· The Transition Year (TY) programme includes a Young Social Innovators module.
· School management promotes the profile of the subject both within the school and among the broader school community.
· CSPE benefits from a very good level of resource provision.
· The continuing professional development of teachers is supported and facilitated by school management.
· There are very good supports in place for the induction of teachers new to CSPE.
· The CSPE teachers form an effective subject department. There is an appointed subject co-ordinator in place, a subject plan has been developed and teachers are engaged in collaborative planning for the delivery and development of the subject.
· High quality teaching and learning was observed, with particular reference to use of active learning methodologies and the engagement of students.
· There was clear evidence of extensive short-term planning for lessons.
· All classroom activities enhanced the development of students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes in line with syllabus requirements.
· There are good supports in place for students with additional educational needs.
· Classroom management was excellent. Mutual respect was evident between teachers and students and in all interactions among students themselves in discussion and group-work situations.
· The students displayed a very good knowledge and understanding of the topics under study.
· A variety of assessment modes is deployed by the CSPE teachers. The students’ report writing skills are appropriately supported, developed and monitored through the use of AfL practices.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· A dedicated data projector should be made available to the CSPE department and the CSPE teachers should be given timetabled access to the school’s computer room.
· The co-ordination of the CSPE department should be rotated and shared among the CSPE teachers.
· The subject department plan should be further developed to include the expected learning outcomes and the modes of assessment that pertain to curriculum content.
· Students’ literacy development in CSPE should be supported through the display of key subject terminology in a strategic location in the classroom as concepts are being taught.
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.
Published October 2008