An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Civic, Social and Political Education
Saint Ailbe’s School
Rosanna Road, Tipperary
Roll number: 72480W
Date of inspection: 18 September 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 St. Ailbe’s Vocational School, Tipperary. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
General timetable provision for CSPE at St. Ailbe’s School is good, with all junior cycle classes having one period of CSPE per week. A total of four teachers are currently involved in subject delivery, with a fifth teacher also forming part of the teaching team in most years. Where possible, classes retain the same teacher from first year onwards and always from second year through to third year. This is good practice. In almost half of CSPE classes, the assigned teacher has the group for another subject as well, which is a good support for the completion of subject-specific Action Projects and the development of teacher-student rapport. This is deserving of wider application, in line with the Department of Education and Science circular relating to CSPE delivery, Circular M13/05, if possible.
In addition to timetabling, a number of whole-school supports are very helpful to delivery of the CSPE programme. Teachers generally work from their own base rooms, which assists the storage of materials and display of subject-relevant posters. Furthermore, classrooms are equipped with computer and televisual facilities which offer excellent supports for subject delivery. Management is also commended for the support given to teachers’ professional development in CSPE. Plans for the development of ‘Sharepoint’ and ‘Moodle’ facilities using information and communication technology (ICT) offer further avenues for subject development. Budgeting is very supportive of the subject’s needs and is commended.
Junior cycle classes at St. Ailbe’s are streamed in some subjects and of mixed ability in others. CSPE classes tend to fall into the streamed category. This is unusual, given the subject’s focus on inclusiveness, group work and its common level in terms of the Junior Certificate examination. Management and the subject department are urged to review this, to consider the possibilities of forming mixed-ability groups in future CSPE provision. This might be done by reconfiguring class groups, or even using CSPE to pilot a team-teaching exercise, given that the school has recently engaged with a South Tipperary Vocational Education Committee (VEC) initiative in this area. A mixed-ability approach to CSPE delivery must, of course, always take into account the suitability of such approaches for the particular student cohort in any given year but certainly it is recommended for consideration.
St. Ailbe’s is highly commended for its overall commitment to citizenship education. A range of activities have been supported within CSPE itself, ranging from assisting with students’ council elections, department involvement in CSPE Support Service and examination work, including a DVD production on Action Projects, ongoing work towards a Green Flag, an outdoor arts project and several other contributions. In addition to CSPE classes, great emphasis has been placed on facilitating visiting speakers with socio-political backgrounds and on school involvement in Earth Hour. Transition Year (TY) students have been involved in projects with the European Youth Parliament, Young Social Innovators and other bodies, and a range of charitable activities. These and other activities are well documented in school literature, and it is even more commendable that the school genuinely sees such a citizenship brief as part of its core work from day to day.
Departmental planning in CSPE is at a very high level. The co-ordinator has been appointed by mutual agreement and looks after the dissemination of materials, resource storage, assistance for new teachers of the subject and the collection and storage of reports on Action Projects (RAPs) for the Junior Certificate. The teaching team meets formally early in each academic year and informally thereafter. Topics discussed and minuted are very focused on improving subject delivery. A substantial bank of CSPE resources has been filed and is readily accessible, and team members have expressed interest in the use of the school’s intranet over time to assist in the storage and use of such resources in classrooms. In addition to the host of activities outlined in the previous section, minutes of the CSPE department’s meetings reflect the degree to which planning takes place for formal celebrations, such as Human Rights Day and Fair Trade Week.
Within the excellent departmental operation outlined above, teachers of CSPE are appropriately given the freedom to adapt their delivery of the subject to suit their individual styles and classes. Most, for instance, favour a concept-led approach, while a unit-based one used is also satisfactorily in line with syllabus expectations. All teachers have agreed that an initial focus on the concept of Rights and Responsibilities should be a common starting point in first-year CSPE, with variations in the order of coverage of the other concepts after that. This is satisfactory. Concepts are built around modules of between twelve and fourteen weeks work and the individual planning documentation examined uses a departmental framework, adapted by teachers as required. Some very good use of subject-specific statements, linked to the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), is also applauded. These statements are a fine support for the assessment of student achievement in manageable stages, in tandem with but never replacing work on Action Projects and other course elements.
Within the individual lessons observed, a consistently high level of teacher planning and preparedness was evident, always linked to the overall departmental approach and resources. Handouts were prepared in advance of lessons, and included worksheets and other materials to facilitate self-directed learning. Preparation also included the use of ICT and televisual facilities, to engage students with maps, websites and other visual stimuli. Where relevant, seamless planning for the presence of a special needs assistant was in evidence, while on an occasion when pre-planning for a particular lesson was upset by circumstances beyond control, admirable adaptability was shown where, literally, even the corridors and offices were turned into an immediate lesson resource with great effect. In all rooms, students had very good sightlines to the whiteboard and teaching area, while seating arrangements facilitated teacher movement or student movement for activities as required.
High levels of pre-planning for CSPE lessons were evident from the initial minutes of the lessons observed, with all necessary handouts, ICT and other resources ready for use. A very good and systematic approach to the retention and distribution of student folders was noted, helping to settle students to the task in hand at the outset of lessons with minimum disruption. In all cases, teachers identified the course concept, and the theme of the lesson ahead, for students. Good linkage with previous learning by students was also established early on through short and pleasant questioning by teachers. A very good emphasis on the use of the white board to remind students visually of key concepts or words was also evident in all lessons. The material prepared for all lessons was fully syllabus relevant, covering aspects of the concepts of interdependence, stewardship and democracy. It was particularly notable that Tipperary issues were given as much prominence, where possible, as global ones, sometimes with nice touches of humour, for good measure.
While some lessons observed had relatively small student cohorts, the general atmosphere in all CSPE lessons visited was excellent. Whether with smaller or larger groups, teachers were very skilled in creating a positive and open atmosphere. Great sensitivity and firmness were shown with any potentially disruptive students and the general banter and humour with which lessons were permeated was very conducive to student engagement. Where questioning was used, students were comfortable in giving spontaneous answers and views, but in an orderly manner, and teachers also dealt with students’ questions very positively. With larger numbers of students, a little more use should be made of individualised questions. This would be preferable to ones seeking hands up from students and should be tried as a means of getting more reticent students involved. Prompts, encouragement, supportive glances and other subtle strategies were deployed by teachers to encourage student participation and activity, and to help them learn and enjoy their lessons simultaneously.
In all lessons, a variety of resources was used to help lesson development. Following introductory stages, students were given handout tasks on personal recycling habits, a quiz on interdependence or a cloze test in the middle of a lesson on the Irish presidency. A ‘Globingo’ game on interdependence was very clearly linked to a world map and clips from a DVD on the presidency were used to support handout work. Some very good detail was given on a website connected to a lesson topic, although it is recommended that such a website could be opened in class for students. The level of internet access and networking available in the school makes this very practicable and even a thirty-second trawl of the home page could increase the likelihood that students will subsequently engage with it for homework. Resources used generally had a high visual as well as verbal content, appropriate for differentiated teaching and learning styles.
Teachers showed very good adaptability as lessons developed. Sometimes, students’ questions or comments were allowed to lead to tangential areas of the topic but always with a view to adding interest or broadening awareness. As previously intimated, some very good links were created, often spontaneously, between global and local issues which students introduced. Where smaller groups were observed, the work of special needs assistants was an obvious support to student engagement too. In one instance, the class was brought out to the corridors and offices to engage with the principal, deputy principal and other staff members in pursuit of answers to a class activity, with excellent confidence-building results for the students.
The overall focus of teaching on developing student engagement was a significant support to learning in CSPE. On a more basic level, the use of the board to highlight key words was a further visual support to learning, which should be linked to contemporaneous but not rigid student note-making if possible. In all lessons, teachers made time for short oral and sometimes written recapitulation of core learning, which is good practice. The general pace of lessons, the varied resources and stimuli used, and the encouragement of students’ active participation were further obvious supports to good quality learning in the CSPE lessons observed. Overall, the quality of teaching observed in CSPE was of a very high standard and significantly aided students’ learning.
Formal assessment practice in CSPE is of a very high standard. The issue of assessment has been a prominent one at CSPE department level over recent years. The department keeps a clear record of performance in the junior certificate examination and is rightly proud of the achievements of students. Minutes of meetings also show that the department has striven successfully for the full inclusion of CSPE in in-house examinations, and regularly updates itself on Certificate examination trends and assessment practice nationally. The department has given sensible consideration to the optimum form of CSPE coursework component for St. Ailbe’s students, and favours the RAP over the Coursework Assessment Book (CWAB) for well-explained reasons. Appropriate procedures are in place for the completion and storage of RAPs, with the co-ordinator taking responsibility in this area. The department is again commended for its work in using the JCSP statements as parallel aids to student learning and assessment. Management is applauded too for its commitment to including CSPE as a distinct subject in its reporting system, and the subject is given equal prominence with others at parent-teacher meetings.
Informally, the variety and quality of the in-class assessment practices has been equally very good. In addition to practices like questioning and the use of questionnaires observed in lessons, it is evident that the range of assessment tools being used in CSPE lessons and in homework is substantial. Crosswords, true or false questionnaires, eTests, materials from past Certificate examinations, visual stimuli and a wide variety of other tools have been observed in the concept folders. Departmental planning material does not formally address the use of oral, group or peer assessment in written form, and this might be considered in time, but there is a very keen awareness in practice of the place these strategies have in CSPE assessment. Where homework was assigned, it was always linked to the topics covered in the relevant lessons, was recorded in student journals and had an admirable degree of student activity built into it, requiring them to interview people, search websites or match pictures as appropriate. If the school’s ‘Sharepoint’ plans come to fruition, more development and use of ICT as an assessment tool for CSPE, including for homework, should be considered as time allows.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· CSPE is satisfactorily timetabled at St. Ailbe’s.
· Whole-school support for CSPE specifically and for lesson delivery generally is of a very high standard.
· The school’s broader support for citizenship education is highly commended.
· Very good levels of departmental and of individual teacher planning have been noted in CSPE at the school.
· The quality of teaching and learning observed during the evaluation was very good.
· The high quality of student engagement with and learning in CSPE is very evident.
· Very thorough formal and informal assessment practices operate in CSPE at St. Ailbe’s.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· If feasible, the more widespread allocation of CSPE teachers to another subject with the same class group should be considered, in line with Circular M13/05.
· A review of the current practice of teaching CSPE in streamed classes is urged.
· Slightly more emphasis on individualised questioning and on website use is suggested, in different class contexts.
· Departmental exploration of how the school’s ICT development can assist issues like resource pooling and student assessment is recommended, as time and resources allow.
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 April 2010