An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE)
Bunclody Vocational College
Bunclody, County Wexford
Roll number: 71620H
Date of inspection: 25 March 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN CIVIC SOCIAL AND POLITICAL EDUCATION (CSPE)
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Bunclody Vocational College. 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 subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an 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 of this report.
Bunclody Vocational College is a co-educational school with 167 students. The study of CSPE is compulsory for all students at junior cycle. Information about new subjects including CSPE is communicated to incoming first-year students at the school’s annual open day and a leaflet containing similar information is distributed to parents on enrolment night. It is good practice to make parents and students aware of the demands and expectations of a subject that may be less familiar than others. Students are taught CSPE in mixed-ability groupings throughout junior cycle.
All class groups have one period per week for CSPE, which is in line with syllabus requirements. Teachers generally have the same group for the subject from first to third year, which is good practice as it ensures continuity for students. However, classes timetabled on Tuesdays are of only thirty minutes duration during the second term in order to facilitate time for social activities for the students. This reduces the time available for the completion of CSPE work, in particular the action projects which are submitted as part of the Junior Certificate requirements. In addition, the fact that some teachers do not necessarily have their class group for another subject limits opportunities for flexibility in optimising available time for the completion of action projects. Senior management should review timetabling provision and endeavour to ensure that teachers have their full allocation of time for CSPE and that they have the class grouping for another subject thereby facilitating the rearranging of lessons for the completion of the action projects.
Four teachers are currently involved in the teaching of CSPE in the school. Where possible, teachers are assigned to CSPE on the basis of expressed interest or willingness to teach the subject. Teachers new to the subject are provided with a CSPE starter pack at the beginning of the year and school management encourages them to attend induction courses offered by the CSPE support service. Some teachers have also availed of the in-service training provided for the in-school co-ordinators of CSPE. The commitment of senior management and teachers to professional development is commended.
Classrooms have become teacher based since the beginning of the current academic year. This facilitates the creation of a subject-related learning environment. Photographs of some current political figures were posted up on the walls in the classrooms visited. A section of the corridor was also used for the display of CSPE material. This is good practice as it will help familiarise students with prominent figures in Irish and world politics in preparation for the Junior Certificate examination. It is recommended that the current displays be extended to include posters of events and organisations relevant to the concepts being studied. Students themselves should be encouraged to source relevant posters and photographs.
There is good availability of resources which are filed into boxes under the different concepts and are kept in a designated space in the staff room. This is very good practice. There is also easy access to televisions, CD players and newspapers, and the purchase of magazines provides supplementary materials for third-year students. Many classrooms have fixed data projectors in addition to two portable projectors which are available for general use. Access to information and communication technology (ICT) is facilitated on an informal basis for teachers who do not have a data projector available to them in their classrooms. Teachers reported using ICT for looking up political parties and for writing letters and making posters for their action projects. It is recommended that they extend their use of ICT in the classroom by creating simple concept-related PowerPoint presentations and by downloading information and news items about international celebration and commemoration days relevant to the topics being studied.
Teachers of each year group are responsible for the organisation of the students’ action projects. They reported that they usually carry out two action projects during the course of the three-year programme. However, they don’t always complete the second project. As part of their action projects relating to the law, students visit Mountjoy prison and the Four Courts, while those completing action projects on the environment usually visit a recycling centre. One group of students carried out a useful project on wheelchair accessibility in their local town. Speakers from An Garda Síochána and from the County Council are also invited to the school. First-year students arrange the annual Christmas display for the Junior Cycle Schools Programme (JCSP). The student council elections are co-ordinated by the CSPE teachers and students. They are also active in the organisation of an annual ‘Jersey Day’ fundraising project for Goal. Involvement in such events is highly commended as it raises awareness of the importance and value of active citizenship and this is central to the aims of the CSPE programme. To further ground students learning in real life events consideration should be given to planning small events to celebrate or commemorate some of the international days or weeks such as planting a tree for national tree week or promoting fair trade fortnight.
Bunclody Vocational College has embraced the school development planning process. The school has one annual planning day when teachers also meet for subject planning. In addition, the teachers of CSPE reported meeting informally on frequent occasions throughout the year. Minutes are kept of all formal meetings, which is good practice. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to also keeping a written note of all decisions taken at informal meetings. There is a subject co-ordinator, a position which is rotated in line with good practice.
A review of the planning documentation submitted on the day of the evaluation indicates that the teachers of CSPE have made good progress in subject planning. The CSPE plan sets out its aims and objectives based on the syllabus and outlines organisational and operational issues related to the teaching and learning of the subject, including resources, methodologies, and assessment and recording procedures. The curriculum content is set out in terms of the general aim for each concept studied followed by the content to be covered. This is commended. To further progress the planning process it is recommended that teachers establish their aims and objectives for each concept to be studied in terms of the desired learning outcomes to be achieved. It is also suggested that these learning outcomes be articulated in terms of ‘can do’ statements for each year group.
There was generally good preparation for the lessons observed with the advance readiness of technical equipment and supplementary materials.
Inspection activities involved the observation of three lessons, one in first year, one in second year and one in third year. There was also the opportunity to review students’ copies. The quality of teaching and learning observed was generally satisfactory with some instances of very good organisation and recording practices.
Lessons were generally well structured and paced and the content was appropriate to the needs and abilities of the student cohort. The teachers shared the lesson plan with the students in all of the lessons observed and reminded them of the concepts being studied. This is good practice as it focuses students on the work in hand from the outset. In the interests of linking up planning and practice and of making students aware of teaching and learning as a shared responsibility, teachers should reframe their plans in terms of the proposed learning outcomes for the lesson. Greater focus on achieving the proposed learning outcomes will also help with time management in the lessons where teachers did not complete all they had planned to do.
A mind map was used very effectively in one instance to set the context and to develop the work of the lesson. A further variation of this very good practice is suggested where students could work on the mind map in small groups and report back. This would make them aware of the value of their previous learning and general world knowledge in supporting new learning. The use of the mind map as both a whole class and a group activity should also be extended to other class groups.
Question and answer sessions as observed in all lessons encouraged student involvement and in some instances initiated good discussion and reflection. This is commended. There were also some very good examples of effective teaching and learning where the teacher simplified the key concepts to appropriate levels and enabled students to source examples from their own lives and environments.
A DVD was used in some lessons to support learning. Good practice was observed where preparatory activities were used to elicit students’ knowledge and understanding of the topic prior to the viewing of the DVD. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons. The material chosen in one instance, while interesting, was too long, resulting in students disengaging from the work in hand. In these instances teachers should show the DVD in segments where each segment is followed by discussion or a student-based individual or group task to consolidate learning. The choice of activities should also be differentiated to meet the needs of the entire student cohort.
Pair work was observed in some lessons. The use of pair or group tasks is commended as a means of engaging students more actively in their own learning. To this end it is recommended that greater use of student-based tasks involving individual, pair or group work activities be made in all lessons. For example, the possibility of students using ICT to make PowerPoint-assisted presentations could be explored.
Students were well behaved in all of the lessons observed and engaged actively in their learning where given the opportunity. Class discussions indicated that many students had a good understanding of the key concepts and many of their questions and comments indicated good levels of reflection. In interactions with the inspector the more vocal students demonstrated a good level of learning. Active methods which will place a responsibility on all students to participate should be identified and used to the greatest possible extent.
Student progress is monitored in a variety of ways including participation in the lesson, question and answer sessions, homework, and examinations. Very good practice was observed in one lesson where the students had a diary and recorded the work completed during the lesson in terms of the topic being studied and what they learned. This ensures that all students have a record of work for revision purposes. These students also completed homework assignments which were corrected by the teacher. However, a review of students’ copies was impossible in other lessons observed as they did not have copies with them in class. This needs to be addressed.
The school has recently developed a homework policy and is working on strategies to overcome general difficulties reported by teachers in getting students to complete homework assignments. Given the nature of CSPE where homework assignments can differ from the traditional format of written exercises, it is recommended that, as part of any future strategy, all students should be required to have a designated CSPE folder containing a record of the work studied in class and a record of evidence to indicate that all homework assignments have been completed. Teachers also need to monitor copies or folders to ensure that work completed at home is kept for revision and reference purposes later.
Students sit examinations at Christmas and in the summer. They complete the “Report on an Action Project” (RAP) for their Junior Certificate examination. These are kept in secure storage in the school’s strong room. A review of examination results indicates that outcomes are appropriate to the general student cohort.
Contact with parents is maintained through the use of the student journal, school reports which are issued twice yearly and the annual parent teacher meetings held for all year groups.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
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 February 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The inspection report content was regarded as a fair and honest comment on how C.S.P.E. is delivered in our school. The general comment throughout was very positive and the recommendations were seen as very useful pointers by the teachers involved.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Follow-up actions undertaken
Under planning work has been completed in terms of learning outcomes for each concept. A specific set of learning outcomes are set down for each concept in our updated C.S.P.E. Plan.
Planned Management have taken up the issue of timetabling with other groups and it is getting full attention within the constraints of a working timetable.