An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Civic, Social and Political Education
Westport County Mayo
Roll number: 72160E
Date of inspection: 8 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 Carrowbeg College, Westport. 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 the teacher, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and to the subject teacher. 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.
Carrowbeg College lies within the area of responsibility of Co. Mayo Vocational Education Committee (VEC). CSPE is a compulsory subject for all students at junior cycle. School management and staff are commended for promoting the profile of the subject both within the school and among the broader school community. In line with other subjects, information about CSPE is disseminated at an information evening for parents of prospective first year students and their co-operation is sought to assist students with action projects where relevant. Parents also have the opportunity to meet the CSPE teacher at parent-teacher meetings and they receive twice-yearly school reports on students’ progress in the subject.
School management provides good support for the organisation, teaching and learning of CSPE. Timetabling provision for the subject is in line with syllabus requirements and includes one thirty-five minute teaching period a week for both first year and second year students. This increases to a generous time allocation of two class periods per week for third year students. The CSPE teacher has two of the CSPE class groups for another subject and one CSPE class group for two other subjects. This is good practice as it enables flexible contact time to be arranged when completing action projects. The majority of classes are timetabled mid-week and at times of the day which reduce the possibility of lessons being missed due to interruptions on the school calendar.
There is currently one teacher of CSPE who has an interest in teaching the subject. The deployment of a second member of staff to teach CSPE would be a welcome development in terms of collegial support and sharing the significant workload involved in completing action projects with three class groups. Whilst acknowledging the constraints of staffing it is recommended that school management give consideration to this provision.
The CSPE department has access to a broad range of subject specific resources and reference materials provided by the CSPE Support Service and other organisations promoting citizenship education. While there is no specific budget facility for CSPE requests made to management for any necessary resources are generally acceded to. There is good availability of audio-visual equipment and CSPE class groups are facilitated in using information and communications technologies (ICT) facilities by availability of access to the school’s computer room. School management is urged to consider the provision of a dedicated laptop, perhaps to be shared between the CSPE and SPHE departments as a means of further facilitating the increased use of ICT in the classroom.
School management encourages and facilitates the continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers. It is highly commended that whole school development days have been provided by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) in conjunction with the School Completion Programme and the Neighbourhood Youth Project (NYP) in areas of relevance to CSPE, including addressing bullying and behaviour management. The CSPE teacher has attended in-service training provided by the CSPE Support Service. It is encouraged that regular in-service be availed of so that teachers can keep informed of developments in the subject. Networking with other teachers of CSPE will also provide a rich opportunity to share and discuss practice and be a positive form of support.
Current timetabling arrangements in the school result in a teaching week which falls short of what is required to ensure that all students have access to twenty-eight class contact hours. It is necessary that this matter be addressed for the next academic year to ensure compliance with the Department of Education and Science circular M29/95 Time in School.
Whilst there is only one teacher of CSPE in the school a subject department structure had been established and a CSPE policy document developed. Subject department planning is supported by school management with the provision of formal planning time during the school year. Cross-curricular and team planning with other subject departments was noted in the minutes of meetings and this collaboration is encouraged.
Schemes of work have been developed for each year group. It is recommended that these schemes of work be further developed to include a more detailed breakdown of content and the specific resources used in teaching the various concepts. The exemplar for a module of work on the concept of the Law on page twenty-one of the CSPE Guidelines for Teachers will provide useful guidance in this regard. The desired learning outcomes linked to curriculum content should also be documented in future plans. The inclusion of a review component is also advised to record class progress and competency in the areas studied. This provision will help to give focus to revision activities and will help the teacher to identify if there is need to implement alternative strategies or adopt a different approach to the teaching of a topic.
There was clear evidence of effective planning for the systematic organisation of subject resources. A designated space has been provided for the storage of resource materials. The subject plan contains a catalogue of the CSPE videos, DVDs and educational packs available within the school and a detailed list of organisations and their respective websites to support teaching and learning across the seven subject concepts. This provision is commended in facilitating easy access to resources and would be most beneficial for any teacher new to CSPE. There are also appropriate procedures in relation to matters pertaining to the State Examinations Commission (SEC), including the secure storage of Reports on Action Projects (RAPs).
There was evidence of short-term planning for the lessons observed including the preparation of notes on examination questions and the development of a word puzzle. The learning objective was articulated at the beginning of lessons which provided students with a clear knowledge of the work in hand. This is good practice and is encouraged in all lessons as an essential element of ‘Assessment for Learning’ (AfL). It is suggested that short plenary sessions be provided at the end of the lessons with a focus on ‘what I have learned today’.
A variety of methodologies was used to ensure student engagement with the lesson material. These included teacher exposition, questioning, class exercises and the use of ICT. Best practice was observed where these strategies were combined in a manner that allowed for active student participation in their own learning and also enabled some subject theory to be delivered. It is recommended that this practice be extended to all lessons given the limited class contact time for CSPE.
There was evidence of the effective integration of ICT during the course of the evaluation. In one lesson students were developing posters on the seven concepts of the CSPE syllabus. As part of the task they were required to provide short simple statements on the meaning of the concept. It is suggested that prior to students using the computers some preparatory whole-class preparation be undertaken to direct their attention to the key elements of each concept. In another lesson the concept of stewardship was being explored as students worked on part of their action project which entailed a focus on litter and recycling. Each individual student had responsibility for designing and producing a poster on recyclable items and these were to be displayed throughout the school. The students displayed good ICT skills in their ability to access their folders, websites, import visuals into their word documents and use Wordart. Some colourful and creative posters were in the process of development as the students engaged with enthusiasm in this activity.
There was good use of a word puzzle to revise commonly encountered environmental terms. This proved quite a challenging exercise for students but they were prompted appropriately by the teacher to ensure its successful completion. Given the mixed-ability nature of class groups it is recommended that key terms pertaining to the seven concepts be displayed in a strategic location in the classroom as these concepts are taught. This provision would assist students in becoming more familiar with subject-specific terminology and increase their literacy development in the subject. It is suggested that the production of such lists and ideally with matching visuals be assigned to students as part of their homework.
In one lesson students were being prepared for the impending State examination. The correction of past examination questions was central to the lesson. The students read out their answers and the teacher provided notes on answers in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. In conducting revision it is recommended that a shorter and more simplified version of the salient points be outlined for students. In this regard the use of mind maps or other user friendly visuals is encouraged to present information. Students should be given the time to record these in their copybooks as they are useful revision aids.
There were some displays of students’ project work and CSPE-related posters. There is further scope to develop a print-rich environment in the classroom where most CSPE lessons are held. It is recommended that a politics photo gallery of key figures in government and other relevant organisations be developed in the classroom. The students should also be encouraged to contribute articles from newspapers on local, national or international events relevant to CSPE for display on a CSPE notice board.
A positive atmosphere pertained in all lessons. When it was necessary to re-focus students’ attention this was done in a caring and sensitive manner. The teacher provided individual attention and support to students and they were affirmed for all their efforts. The students’ knowledge and learning reflected their ability levels.
There is good liaison between the CSPE teacher and the learning-support teacher and some students are provided with additional help in CSPE. The special needs assistants (SNAs) also play an important role in supporting students. These provisions are commended.
A range of assessment modes is used to monitor student learning and progress including questioning, the allocation and correction of homework and in-class exercises. Homework tasks given in lessons were appropriately linked to the lesson content. It was also evident from the teacher’s planning documentation and class observation that in the case of students preparing to take certificate examinations appropriate use is made of examination papers. An examination of a sample of students’ copybooks and workbooks indicated that some work has been given and corrected. As a further support to students it is recommended that their written work is provided with developmental feedback which highlights their strengths and indicate what they can do to improve their work. The website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) www.ncca.ie will provide information on the development of ‘Assessment for Learning principles.
The CSPE department operates a system of continuous assessment. Students’ Christmas and end-of-year grades are based on the completion of homework and their performance in class during the term. Sometimes class questions are also given. The practice of continuous assessment is commended as it serves to motivate students throughout the terms. However, it is recommended that a written examination also be administered to students as part of their end-of-term assessments. This provision would further formalise student assessment in the subject and give a deeper insight into their skills and knowledge of key CSPE concepts. Third year students sit mock examinations in the spring in advance of the State examinations.
The action project is a fundamental part of formal assessment in third year and is allocated sixty percent of the marks in the Junior Certificate examination. In line with syllabus recommendations the students must complete two action projects over the three years of the junior cycle. It is important that students are aware of the importance of active participatory citizenship from an early stage and it is recommended that one of these projects takes place in first year. The town and local environment provide many opportunities for undertaking a variety of community-based action projects. This provision is strongly encouraged as a means of enhancing students’ civic and social awareness in their own locality.
Student outcomes in the State examinations are analysed. This is good practice as it can help to inform and develop subject planning.
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 teacher 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 November 2008