An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Civic, Social and Political Education
Mercy Heights Secondary School ,
Skibbereen, County Cork
Roll number: 62490T
Date of inspection: 23 October, 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in CSPE
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Mercy Heights Secondary School. 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 studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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.
Mercy Heights Secondary School is a voluntary secondary school and offers CSPE to all junior cycle classes as a compulsory subject. This is in line with Department of Education and Science regulations. Timetabling in the current year sees CSPE placed substantially in morning timeslots, which is valuable as it is more likely to avoid disruption of CSPE delivery due to games or other school activities. This is quite important given the fact that the subject is delivered in one period per week. It is good to note that it is custom and practice at the school to have teachers of second-year CSPE classes continue with the classes into third year. This is a good support to continuity, not least in the doing of and subsequent reporting on action projects which are central to the CSPE syllabus and Junior Certificate assessment.
Of some concern is the fact that in the majority of instances, teachers who teach CSPE to a class do not have that class for another subject as well. This can militate against planning for action projects in particular and has been recommended for review when planning future timetables. This would also be in line with the recommendations of Circular M13/05 and the most recent CSPE Guidelines. Given that the completion of reports on action projects (RAPs) is most likely to occur in third-year CSPE lessons, it will be particularly useful if timetabling practice can focus at least on ensuring that third-year CSPE classes have their teacher for another subject as well.
The general level of whole-school support for CSPE and citizenship development is impressive. A total of seven teachers are involved in subject delivery and good time allocations for planning meetings have been evident this year. Budgeting is allocated to CSPE teachers as needs arise and there is good access for CSPE teachers and students to information and communication technology (ICT), audio-visual supports and relevant resources. Management has given proactive support to initiatives like the organisation of studentsí council elections by a designated CSPE class, the facilitation of visiting speakers and studentsí involvement in the Young Social Innovators (YSI) initiative, including a new pilot project. The YSI pilot project seeks to move social innovation into whole-school delivery, out of its traditional Transition Year (TY) base, and three of the four areas of focus are clearly relevant to CSPE. This project provides a fine opportunity for the mainstreaming of citizenship education and civic responsiveness throughout the school and the schoolís participation in it is applauded. The possibilities of creating a citizenship noticeboard, incorporating existing features on school recycling efforts and displaying the various elements in the YSI project are worth exploring, particularly as there is already a real commitment to visual displays in a host of areas around the school.
As previously mentioned, good collaborative planning time has been provided for CSPE teachers, especially towards the start of the 2008-9 school year. Meetings have been generally well attended and short minutes of matters discussed and decisions reached have been maintained. This is good practice and it is to be hoped that a regime of termly meetings will be a sustainable support to subject planning. A large planning folder has evolved in CSPE, containing a wealth of material relating to the syllabus, examination statistics, action projects undertaken, resources available to teachers and details of supports available from the CSPE Support Service. It is also noted that the departmental folder, appropriately, contains an emphasis on general strategies for supporting students with additional educational needs, and it has been suggested that some discussion of how best CSPE can be to the fore in assisting students with additional learning† needs might be considered for the next team meeting.
CSPE has a designated subject co-ordinator. It is envisaged that the co-ordination role will be rotated among other CSPE teachers in years to come. This is a sensible proposal. Core co-ordinator duties at present include liaison with the CSPE support service, handling correspondence and facilitating any team meetings. Individual teachers have taken responsibility for organising guest speakers or campaigns, and for procuring some resources. As a means of up-skilling team members and sharing the workload in what is a minority subject for all seven teachers, consideration could be given to devolving some other responsibilities to team members. For example, there would be great merit in identifying one member, at the next CSPE meeting, who could be a liaison contact with the schoolís Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) team. He or she might investigate ways in which both areas can support each other in syllabus delivery, resourcing and methodological ideas, as well as avoiding any possible overlap or overload in content delivery. Similarly, another team member might be assigned to resource procurement for a fixed period, to include web-based resource location for other team members.
The CSPE team maintains good records of studentsí performance in state examinations and it is suggested that comparing these with national norms, accessible on the State Examinations Commission website, (www.examinations.ie) would be a good annual item on a departmental agenda as well, as a matter of course. A fine record of action projects undertaken in the past has been maintained also, with one recommendation of significance to be made here relating to the need to ensure that any projects are clearly linked to one or more of the core concepts on the CSPE course and not overly in the realm of SPHE or health generally. The practice of using a CSPE class action project as the vehicle through which the schoolís studentsí council is elected, complete with all the relevant student tasks, is a very sensible one.
Very good levels of agreement have been reached on which areas of the syllabus will be taught in any given year, with the practice of having students sit common examinations in CSPE at the end of first year and second year being a good reinforcement to coverage of identified concepts annually. Having a relatively large team of CSPE teachers, rather than a more compact model where teachers have several CSPE classes each, has not been identified as a significant difficulty in the schoolís context, as all teachers involved reported themselves happy to teach the subject and there is good continuity from second year to third year .
Teachers are covering essentially similar concepts in each of the three years of junior cycle. By agreement, first-year CSPE teachers focus on Rights and Responsibilities and Human Dignity, second-year teachers cover Stewardship and Democracy (including an action project), while third-year teachers cover Law, Interdependence and Development, with a second action project completed in that year also. This is a fine, structured approach which could be fleshed out into termly plans without much difficulty, as has been recommended. In all lessons visited, the material being covered was fully relevant to the particular concepts for study, with very good emphasis being placed by teachers on student preparation and on ensuring that necessary resources, equipment, ICT and props were provided for lesson activities. There was evident continuity from previous lessons and links to the relevant course concepts were clearly established by teachers in all lessons. It was good to note also that while the core concepts or plans were identified by teachers, an appropriate degree of student choice in deciding on the directions to be taken within project work and other activities was self evident.
In all lessons visited, the atmosphere was purposeful and respectful but also natural and unforced. Very good rapport was evident between teachers and students all through lessons, with good opportunities seized by teachers to engage in some light banter or humour on occasion. In all lessons, group work was employed as a central teaching strategy and it was noticeable that students took to the challenges of moving, turning desks, adopting group roles in a most non-disruptive fashion. Some classrooms had good CSPE-linked illustrations evident, including one which highlighted the involvement of a class in the studentsí council election and another showing an art-oriented set of student projects on human rights. This is good practice.
Lesson development in all classes revolved around students being encouraged to take action, after initial teacher input or direction. Placing the responsibility for their own learning on students is a core methodological tenet of CSPE and it was good to see such an emphasis here. Considerable pre-planning had ensured that students had all the relevant tasks done to advance the work during lesson time. They had written scripts for role plays on bullying and a mock trial, had done previous work on ICT-based projects or had engaged in short research tasks on human rights. Thus, lessons were able to develop a dynamic very quickly, with teachers in all instances taking appropriate roles as facilitators. Occasional recommendations have been offered around asking students to provide information, rather than giving it to them by means of notes initially, but in general the emphasis on student responsibility was very strong. In all lessons, when students were asked to take such leads, teachers monitored and supported the work in a seamless fashion.
Where lesson structure allowed, teachers employed good reinforcement strategies through the use of the classroom whiteboard in most instances. Summaries of key learning outcomes in the form of a role play were placed on the board in one lesson according as students identified them. Noting these down would have assisted in studentsí retention but the core emphasis on students thinking for themselves was very positive nonetheless. Occasional recommendations have been made to teachers relating to the structuring of text on the board, or ensuring that such text is visible to all, but in the main there was very sensible and effective use of visual reinforcement in the lessons observed.
All lessons observed placed a strong emphasis on inclusive practice. No one was left out of an activity for any reason. All lessons were taught in mixed ability contexts and, in cases where special needs assistants (SNAs) supported the work of students, such support was deployed in a sensitive and unobtrusive manner. In relevant cases, teachers employed simple tactics to ensure also that students for whom English was an additional language language were able to participate in the lesson to the fullest extent. The general degree to which teachers interacted with all students ensured that even the most reticent of students was encouraged to participate in and enjoy the lessons, while the focus in most lessons on visual, verbal and aural work helped to accommodate different learning styles to a high degree.
The active nature of the lessons observed helped ensure that participation levels were high. Teachers made good use of questioning and prompting to encourage studentsí learning further, and a good mix of lower and higher order questions was used in most lessons. Occasional recommendations have been offered about the value of breaking down some of the more challenging words into their component parts, or focusing on the word-origins to assist studentsí understanding. Similarly, the possibilities of assisting retention through the development of a form of student dictionary in copybooks are worthy of consideration, where new citizenship terminology can be inserted and explained as students encounter such terms. In the overall context of seeking to ensure good learning and retention, however, the questioning and visualisation strategies employed by teachers were very satisfactory.
In most lessons, studentsí copybooks were examined and showed a good regime of homework in place, sometimes using visual and verbal strategies to gauge studentsí learning. This is good practice. Some imaginative homework ideas were also noted in different lessons, including short and simple internet research tasks, and work involving project preparation, role-play script writing and practicing. These are very worthwhile assessment strategies, not necessarily quantifiable in terms of work done but supporting student-centred learning and imaginative engagement with citizenship ideas nevertheless.
Some classes visited were involved in doing action projects and it was noted that a very good system has been put in place whereby students become familiar with the RAP templates even when doing action projects which they may not, in the end, submit for the Junior Certificate. This is a sensible strategy and those instances observed through examination of such dummy RAPs showed an appropriate level of teacher support only, with students given very clear guidance on how to complete personal RAPs themselves.
As previously intimated, it is good that CSPE is afforded formal examination time in the summer tests for both first-year and second-year classes, and that the policy in place is for all students in a year group to sit common examinations. Assessments at Christmas are not of such a formal nature but do factor in teachersí views on student achievement, engagement and participation, which is also appropriate to CSPE. The facts that CSPE teachers are given equal status to all other teachers at parent-teacher meetings, and that CSPE is included in all report templates, are further good strategies employed to ensure that assessment supports studentsí learning.
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:
A post-evaluation meeting was held with the teachers of CSPE, 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, June 2009