An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Civic, Social and Political Education
Saint Joseph’s Secondary School
Foxford County Mayo
Roll number: 64640W
Date of inspection: 26 September 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 St. Joseph’s Secondary School, Foxford carried out as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 five 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.
In St. Joseph’s Secondary School CSPE is a compulsory subject on the junior cycle curriculum. Time allocations to the subject are appropriate consisting of forty or forty-five minute class periods across each of the junior cycle years. Teachers reported satisfaction with the class times and days on which CSPE lessons are held. School management makes concerted efforts to promote awareness of CSPE among parents by including reference to the subject in the information booklet provided to parents as part of the induction programme for incoming first years. Throughout the junior cycle parents receive letters informing them of outings the students engage in as part of their study of CSPE and the completion dates for submission of obligatory State examinations course work. These good practices are commended as a means of enlisting the support and co-operation of parents. It is suggested that, given that CPSE is one of a number of new subjects studied by first-year students, a brief explanatory outline of the subject and what it entails is provided to parents at the information evening.
In some cases students in CSPE classes have their teacher for another subject. This provision is encouraged in Circular M13/05 as it enables teachers to swap classes and provide extra time when the completion of action projects requires it. Whilst acknowledging the constraints of timetabling it is recommended that this provision be extended to all class groups as far as possible. It is also recommended that each class group is assigned the same teacher of CSPE, particularly in second year and third year, so as to allow continuity in programme planning and to facilitate the organisation of action projects. Whilst this arrangement has not been possible with the present cohort of third-year students due to extenuating circumstances some appropriate arrangements had been put in place to assist teachers with the handover of classes.
School management supports CSPE through the provision of a range of resources to support teaching and learning in the subject. Teachers generally have their own classrooms. The school has excellent ICT facilities including a state of the art computer room and a number of mobile laptop and data projector units that can be accessed readily through a booking schedule. Teachers also have appropriate access to audio-visual equipment. Whilst there is no specific budget allocation to the subject, resources are provided by school management as needs arise. The CSPE department has also benefited from the allocation of a central area for the storage of resources.
School management actively encourages and supports the continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers. The established CSPE teachers have attended in-service seminars provided by the CSPE support service and the teachers new to the subject have planned to attend an upcoming induction programme for new teachers. In addition, the teachers have also had CPD to assist them in their teaching and classroom management including inputs on mixed ability teaching, differentiation strategies and learning styles. These provisions are commended. Financial support is provided for membership of professional associations and the school has recently applied for membership of the Association of CSPE Teachers (ACT). This is commended, as it will assist the department in keeping up to date with ongoing developments in the subject.
The CSPE teachers are commended for their commitment to organising co-curricular activities and raising the profile of CSPE within the school. Guest speakers including politicians and personnel from Amnesty International have visited the school and students have undertaken a number of outings including visits to the Dáil. The Green Schools’ Initiative has been most beneficial in promoting and developing an ethos of active citizenship within the whole school community. The school is congratulated for obtaining the Green Flag and wished every success in its current programme of energy conservation. The school has a students’ council and it is encouraged that it also be used as a vehicle for promoting CSPE. It is also commendable that the work completed by students of CSPE is acknowledged at the school’s annual display of projects evening.
There are currently five members on the CSPE teaching team and they are engaged in collaborative planning for the subject. Responsibility for co-ordination of the CSPE department is shared by two of the teachers. In time as the other members of the team gain experience in teaching the subject it is recommended that this role be rotated so that all of the teachers have the opportunity to acquire the skills and experience of the position. School management has facilitated subject planning through the provision of time for formal meetings. There is also ongoing informal liaison and contact between the teachers in relation to the subject. The teachers new to CSPE reported very favourably on the support and guidance they receive from their colleagues in the department. This spirit of collegiality is commended.
The CSPE teachers are engaged in collaborative planning for the subject and have developed a subject plan. An agreed teaching programme, based on a unit approach to the syllabus is in place for each year group. The schemes of work outline the concepts studied in each year group within agreed timeframes and provide details on the methodologies and resource materials used to deliver content. The types of assessments administered to students are also documented. In building on the good work achieved to date it is recommended that these schemes of work be further developed to specify the main learning outcomes to be attained in relation to each concept. It is also recommended in line with syllabus recommendations that future planning within the department ensures that students in each year group undertake two action projects over the three years of the junior cycle.
It was noted from the schemes of work that revision of concepts and examination preparation are key elements of subject delivery in all year groups but particularly in third year. This good practice is highly commended as a means of reinforcing and consolidating students’ knowledge and effectively preparing them for State examinations.
In the lessons evaluated the concepts under study included rights and responsibilities, the law and interdependence. There was clear evidence of effective planning and preparation by the individual teachers for the lessons observed. Lessons were well structured and delivered at a pace appropriate to the needs and abilities of students. The teaching strategies adopted in lessons provided for a student-centred approach and incorporated the use of a range of appropriate teaching strategies and resource material to support students’ learning.
In all cases effective procedures were in place to manage the learning environment. Classes commenced with a roll call and the learning objectives for the lesson were identified and clearly communicated to students. This practice is commended and encouraged as an essential element of assessment for learning. Practical activities, including pair work and role-play were conducted in a structured and organised manner. Appropriate homework based on the lesson content was assigned at the end of each lesson.
Teachers made use of a range of active learning methodologies which facilitated active student participation in their learning. In one lesson role-play was used to simulate a court scene with the various legal roles acted out by the teacher and a number of students. There was appropriate preparation for this activity and it was conducted in an organised and structured manner. The case scenario was clearly outlined and all participants in the role-play were clearly aware of their function. Students were keenly interested in the proceedings of the court and it was clear that learning was taking place in a fun and effective manner. In another lesson the issue of needs and wants was actively explored as students worked in pairs. This exercise triggered discussion and debate and challenged students to prioritise in accordance with their needs. While other lessons had a greater theory focus active student engagement was ensured through questioning, discussion and class exercises. The integration of pair work in completing worksheets and other tasks is commended as it provides students with an opportunity for peer and co-operative learning.
Lesson material was delivered in a student-friendly manner with an appropriate focus on subject specific terminology. Key notes and points were presented on the board in a visual and simple format. This is good practice and the use of mind maps or other visual aids is further encouraged in all lessons as a means of supporting students’ learning. Questioning was an integral part of all lessons and the inclusion of higher-order questions encouraged students to reflect on and analyse issues. All classrooms had posters of the CSPE concepts on the wall and in one classroom the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and some photographs of political figures were on display. This is good practice. There is further potential to develop a print-rich CSPE learning environment both within classrooms and in public areas such as the corridors through the display of photo galleries, charts, information and posters pertinent to the subject. It is suggested that this work be assigned to students as part of their CSPE project work.
Teachers provide individual help to students with additional educational needs within CSPE lessons and the support of the special needs assistants is also used in this regard. The assessment instruments used by teachers are also differentiated according to students’ ability.
Classroom management was excellent and there was a positive relationship between students and teachers. The students were affirmed throughout lessons and given the time to contribute their opinions to class discussions. Whilst students’ copybooks contained a limited amount of written work in accordance with the time of year, the work completed was appropriate and in line with syllabus content. Students displayed a good understanding of the topics under study. It is recommended as a means of supporting students to organise their learning materials that they use a ring binder folder with a set of dividers to store their work and resource materials provided by their teachers over the three years of the junior cycle. The students engaged fully with all class activities and it was clear from the inspector’s interaction with students that they enjoy studying the subject.
Assessment in CSPE is part of the school’s formal assessment structures with students taking a formal examination at Christmas and at the end of the school year. This practice is commended as it helps to increase the profile of the subject and reinforces its position within the school’s curriculum. Students’ performance in the subject is reported on school reports which are issued twice a year to parents. Parents also have the opportunity to discuss students’ progress at annual parent-teacher meetings held for each year group. It is recommended that end-of-term progress grades assigned to students take cognisance, in addition to the written exam, of a range of factors for example participation and co-operation in lessons, completion of project work and organisation of personal learning materials. The use of these criteria will serve as helpful motivational factors throughout the year.
It is clear from lesson observation and the subject plan that there is ongoing informal assessment of students. Teacher questioning was a significant element of all lessons as a means of ascertaining students’ knowledge and encouraging them to reflect on issues and concepts. There was monitoring of students’ progress and engagement with the lesson material during pair work activities as the teacher circulated among students. Appropriate homework and class worksheets linked to lesson content were given in lessons. A review of the subject plan for each year group indicates that there is commendable diversity in the variety of homework tasks and class activities to achieve the objectives of the CSPE syllabus and accommodate the various learning styles. These activities included developing posters, designing questionnaires, engagement in research, conducting surveys, role-play, opinionated homework answers and communication with agencies and the local community. These provisions are commended. It was also noted that reading articles relevant to community issues from local newspapers and researching community projects feature in the array of homework assigned to students. This is good practice as it establishes clear links between the concepts of CSPE and the world outside the classroom.
In the case of students preparing to take certificate examinations appropriate use is made of past examination papers. It was reported that students are well supported and guided when writing the report on their action project. Teachers provide constructive feedback to each student prior to the completion of the final report. This good practice is commended and the continued application of ‘assessment for learning’ (AfL) principles on students’ written work is encouraged across all year groups.
The CSPE team analyse and evaluate students’ performance in the context of national norms. This is good practice and can provide insights into the overall performance of the department and beneficially inform 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 teachers of CSPE and with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published February 2009