An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Civic, Social and Political Education
Causeway Comprehensive School
Causeway, County Kerry
Roll number: 70540E
Date of inspection: 1 May 2008
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 Causeway Comprehensive 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 one day 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 acting principal and to the subject teachers.
Causeway Comprehensive School allocates one lesson period per week to all junior classes for CSPE. This is in line with the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools and also with the time allocation recommended in the CSPE syllabus. Syllabus guidelines and Departmental circulars have recommended that as far as possible the teacher of CSPE should have a class group for another subject as well. In the majority of cases, this has not been found to be practicable at the school. As the recommendation is based on the facilitation of action project work in the main, it is proposed that the school seek at least to ensure that third-year classes of CSPE have their teacher for another subject as well, as it is traditionally in third year that the core action project work, including the reporting stage, is carried out at the school.
A team of ten teachers is currently involved in CSPE delivery, with just one of these teachers, the subject co-ordinator, having more than one class group per week. It is good to note that most CSPE teachers are volunteers, although it may be feasible in time to reduce the number of people involved in subject delivery to a more cohesive subject team. At present, it is very difficult to get all team members together for a planning meeting and having more of a core team in place could assist this as well as make the planning and preparation work done by teachers more time-efficient if they have more than one class group per week. This is offered as a suggestion only and the school is applauded for the support given to teachers’ continuing professional development, including two training visits to the school by the regional development officer of the CSPE support service in recent years.
Whole-school support for CSPE has been satisfactory. The subject has a budget allocation as other subjects do and is given the same prominence at parent-teacher meetings and in report templates as other subjects. Storage facilities are provided for CSPE resources, good access to information and communication technology (ICT) is available as required, and there is good facilitation of action projects and visiting speakers relevant to the subject. It is also commendable that the school has been very active and reached national prominence in the Young Social Innovators (YSI) competition for Transition Year (TY) students in recent years, while there is at present a wonderful exhibition developed and displayed within the school, devoted to Holocaust Memorial Day. These initiatives are important indirect supports to CSPE delivery in that they foster the sense of rights and responsibilities, among other important concepts, within the wider school community.
The school has established a formal CSPE department in recent years, with a designated co-ordinator position which has rotated since last year. This structure is commendable, as is the work done to date on the completion of a school development planning (SDPI) template on subject organisation. Good provision has been made for the storage of subject resources and the co-ordinator also takes some of the responsibility, along with administrative staff, for ensuring that reports on action projects (RAPs) are submitted and stored according to the guidelines of the State Examinations Commission (SEC) each year.
There is a formal meeting of CSPE teachers at the start of each academic year. Other formal CSPE meetings have not been found to be practicable. In the annual meeting, it is recommended that minutes of decisions reached be maintained and that as much of the focus of such a meeting as possible be kept on the core issues of teaching and learning in CSPE. One matter which deserves attention at such a meeting concerns textbook selection, as the current situation where each year group appears to have a different textbook may not be the most cost-effective practice and can make subject planning and delivery from one year to the next somewhat problematic. It is noted that strategies to rectify this matter have been put in place since the inspection visit. It is also good to note that most CSPE teachers retain the same class from one year to the next and that a good outline plan has been developed, identifying the concepts to be focused on in each year of the course. Given the vibrancy of the school’s student council, it is also suggested that a second action project option could be considered in earlier year groups, around the organisation of student council elections. This is an acceptable action project theme and, with a good culture of elections already present in the school and the recently published guidelines on linking CSPE to student council elections available from the support service, would be worthy of consideration. The department is applauded for the fine work done in organising visiting speakers, visits to local court sessions, projects on litter and other topics, as well as activities around a local refugee centre and an animal rights group.
Given the augmentation of the school’s ICT resources, including broadband internet access, in recent years, teachers are also reminded of the wealth of resources which are available on line. The department could consider placing at least some of its own most used resources on a school intranet system, from which they could be accessed in any networked classroom. There may be time and cost implications in this initially but the long-term benefits to collaborative planning and saving teacher time, particularly with CSPE having potentially the largest teaching team in the school, make it worthy of consideration as circumstances allow.
Individual teacher planning and preparation has been satisfactory. In all cases, the material covered in lessons was fully syllabus-relevant and teachers made effective use of a range of handouts, questionnaires and other support materials, including prepared transparencies on overhead projectors. The integration of a live internet feed to a refugee camp via Google Earth was a particularly impressive item planned for in one context. In some cases, individual lesson plans were presented while in all classes observed there was a clear sense of purpose to the lesson, with good time built in for student activity, recapitulation of learning and homework.
Teachers’ organisation of classrooms for CSPE delivery was of a high standard. In all classrooms visited, good wall displays relating to CSPE were evident, while practicalities like seating arrangements, board visibility and the availability of computers, overhead projectors and televisions as required were in hand. Where seating arrangements were flexible, with moveable chairs and desks, group work and teacher movement were easily facilitated. However, teachers are also commended on the manner in which they organised lessons to include pair work even where fixed-desk situations arose, as in a science laboratory and materials technology wood (MTW) room. On the occasion where the brightness of a classroom might have militated against students’ viewing of a screen, handout back-up was employed very simply to ensure that learning would still be possible, while the malfunctioning of a piece of equipment in another classroom was never allowed to disrupt the lesson flow. On another occasion, the classroom whiteboard was pre-filled with core concepts and terms, colour coded, and this level of preparedness also helped to ensure that learning began from the earliest moment possible.
In all CSPE lessons observed, a very nice rapport existed from the outset between teachers and students. While the department’s own stated aim is to promote discussion and participation in line with CSPE philosophy, it is refreshing to see the manner in which this has been lived out in classrooms. Occasionally, teachers used local or student-relevant issues, such as a previous night’s soccer game or hurling match, to stimulate some interaction early in lessons, and these are applauded as good ice-breakers. Further links between local and more global issues deserve to be explored where feasible as there is no doubt that local angles to concepts bring a sense of immediacy to such issues. In some instances, students were somewhat shy or reticent in speaking but they were expertly encouraged, sometimes through good-humoured banter from teachers, to participate in group activities and in lessons to the full. Given the import of the student voice in CSPE lessons generally, it was good to note also that sometimes teachers repeated what quiet students had volunteered, in order to gently ensure that all students could hear; this is a sensible and sensitive support to student engagement and worthy of deployment in all lessons as required.
Significant efforts to make students responsible for their own learning were evident in all lessons observed. In every lesson, a central feature of development was the use of group work or pair work. Students were asked to respond to a variety of stimuli, including brainstorming handouts, questionnaires, crosswords, visual games and a video feature and were asked to do so in a collaborative manner with neighbours. Teachers invariably monitored and supported such activities very positively yet allowed ample room for students to discuss and argue points as well. Feedback from such work came orally via appointed spokespersons or, in one instance, through the completion by individual students of a crossword projected onto the whiteboard. The video feature was appropriately stopped as required in order to facilitate student responses. In other instances, it was good to see that teachers were comfortable in accepting unanticipated feedback on some issues and incorporating it into the overall learning. More generally, a fine focus on using questions to develop lessons was noted, again helped in no small manner by the effort of teachers to get every student involved in the answering process at an appropriate level.
In terms of student understanding and retention, very good efforts were made by teachers to explain and tease out issues as they arose. As happened in some classes, it has been suggested that placing key terms, or definitions of difficult concepts, on the board would be a good visual reinforcement to learning and is worth exploring. So too might a more widespread emphasis on short note-making by students as a further means of aiding retention, while the possibility of getting students to maintain a section of their copybooks for the many key definitions which can accumulate around the CSPE concepts is also recommended as a vehicle to aid understanding and retention. Where group feedback points were placed on the board by teachers, these were a very good visual support to engagement and learning. It is worthwhile getting students, who may not have thought of some of the points in their own groups, to jot down any new ideas so gleaned into their own work as well. Some excellent summary handouts were distributed in all lessons. It is again suggested that holistic strategies such as files or pocket folders could be used more with some classes, to ensure that such supports are retained by students in a structured manner, ready for revision purposes as required and helping to ensure the long-term retention by students of the good teaching and learning effected in the CSPE classes observed.
Good whole-school support for CSPE assessment includes correct arrangements for RAP completion and storage and, as previously mentioned, provision for CSPE in regular school examinations and reporting procedures, including parent-teacher meetings. It is general school policy too that common assessment instruments be used in end-of-term and end-of-year examinations and this practice is prevalent in CSPE, which is commended.
Within more subject-specific parameters, a very satisfactory range of informal assessment methods has been employed in CSPE. The degree to which in-class questioning and student contributions is emphasised already plays a significant role in both the assessment of student learning and also in the promotion of student engagement. Some very solid use of past state examination papers has ensured that students are given plenty of opportunity to familiarise themselves with more formal assessment requirements through less-formal homework assignments. In some instances, it has been recommended that any instructions given to students to write on any CSPE topics should also contain guidance on how many concrete points are required in such an answer. Some teachers retain copies of SEC marking schemes in their planning folders and this is sensible practice, transferable to advice on homework completion in an optimum manner. Some very good worksheet tasks were given as homework, including ones on refugees and recycling, and a very challenging assignment on the perceptions of teenagers vis-à-vis adults offered good opportunities for students to involve those at home in such discussions. Occasionally, it has been suggested that tasks relating to the identification or reinforcement of challenging acronyms such as UNHCR, CFCs etc could also be assigned as homework, while an array of other assessment materials available for use includes wordsearch, cloze and crossword games, all of which are commended as valuable assessment tools in banded or mixed-ability classes.
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 acting principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published March 2009