An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE)
Tullow Community School
Tullow, County Carlow
Roll number: 91356F
Date of inspection: 15 October 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Civic, Social and Personal Education (CSPE)
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Tullow Community School, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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.
CSPE is a compulsory subject for all students at junior cycle in Tullow Community School. Information about CSPE is communicated to the parents of incoming first-year students at an open night, where all subjects are discussed and relevant student work is displayed. This is commended. Students are taught CSPE in mixed-ability groupings, which is good practice, given the common syllabus and examination for Junior Certificate.
There is appropriate provision for CSPE in the allocation of time and timetabling. All classes have one period each week for the subject. The majority of the teachers assigned to teaching CSPE do not have their class group for another subject. This is contrary to best practice. Senior management should review timetabling provision to endeavour to ensure that teachers have their CSPE grouping for another subject. This will allow for flexibility in optimising available time for the completion of action projects.
There are currently seven teachers involved in the teaching of CSPE, most of whom are Arts graduates. School management has facilitated professional development for teachers of CSPE in recent years; however, most of the teachers currently teaching the subject have not benefited from this inservice. Senior management should therefore avail of the school-based professional development that is offered by the CSPE support services and facilitate inservice for all the current teachers of the subject, in addition to others who express interest in teaching it in the future. Whole-school inservice on assessment for learning (AfL) has recently been provided.
Resources for CSPE are provided on request to management. There is also access to a range of materials, many of which are sent to the school from a number of agencies promoting development education. However the practice in the school to date has been to distribute resources to individual teachers rather than having a central storage area. In order to gain optimum benefit from the abundance of CSPE related resources sent into schools, teachers should work together to identify those materials which will be of most benefit to teaching and learning and build up a bank of resources which will be accessible to all. These resources can be further supplemented by suitable materials and activities downloaded from the internet. Teachers reported a willingness to use information and communications technology (ICT) as a tool for teaching and learning, but that difficulty in accessing the computer room limits opportunities to engage in the use of ICT. While these logistical difficulties are acknowledged, it is recommended that teachers of CSPE research ways in which they might be overcome.
Co-curricular activities include visits to the Dáil, and to a prison. Teachers also invite outside speakers including members of the Gardaí and the environment officer from the local county council. This is commended. The school also organises a range of events including St Brigid’s day, daffodil day, anti-bullying week and elections for the student council, all of which promote an ethos of active citizenship. However, these are whole-school activities rather than CSPE generated or related initiatives. It is recommended that the members of the CSPE department form active links with some of these events in addition to initiating other co-curricular activities which promote students’ awareness of community, national, third world and environmental issues. For example, the celebration of some of the international days in the calendar is an effective way of highlighting issues of global concern. Efforts should also be made to challenge students to become active in some of the voluntary organisations that exist at school level. The establishment of such groups will enable them to continue their commitment to active citizenship and societal improvement in both senior cycle and adult life.
Tullow Community School is actively engaged in school development planning and teachers have embraced subject planning as part of this process. Subject department meetings are facilitated for planning purposes. However, the teachers of CSPE, all of whom are involved in teaching other subjects, attend planning meetings for their main subjects. As a result, there have been no formal meetings of the CSPE teachers as a subject department to date. According to senior management this issue will be addressed in the next school year with the allocation of time for the teachers of CSPE to meet as a subject department. There is currently no subject co-ordinator for CSPE. It is recommended that a subject co-ordinator be nominated as soon as practical. This position should be rotated regularly among all teachers of CSPE, in order to facilitate ongoing development within the department.
A subject plan for CSPE for the current year was submitted in advance of the evaluation. This outlined the subject objectives, a brief overview of the school context and the curriculum content to be completed in each year. However, the current members of the CSPE department indicated that they had not been involved in its development. It is therefore recommended that teachers begin the collaborative process of building on the work already completed in subject planning and develop a long-term plan for CSPE. This plan should set out the desired learning outcomes for each year group in line with those identified in the syllabus, outlining the skills to be developed and the methodologies to be used. Health and safety protocols and practices for student involvement in action projects and outings should also be included. A long-term plan should also incorporate planning for resources, for action projects and planning for students with special educational needs (SEN).
In some cases, schemes of work were presented on the day of the evaluation. The preparation of schemes of work by individual teachers is commended. There was also advance readiness of relevant texts and materials for use during the lessons observed, indicating good preparation for the work in hand.
Inspection activities included the observation of four lessons; one in first year, one in second year and two in third year. There was also the opportunity to interact with the students at the end of each lesson.
In one instance the plan of work was outlined in terms of the proposed learning outcome for the lesson. This practice is highly commended as it engages students from the outset and makes them aware of teaching and learning as a shared responsibility. It also helps teachers to structure and pace the lesson to ensure the achievement of the learning outcome. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons. Most teachers began with a quick review of previous work before moving into the body of the lesson. This is good practice. However, it was not always clear which concept was being taught. Students need to be reminded at the beginning of each lesson of the concept being studied.
Question and answer sessions were effectively used to reinforce previous learning and to elicit student knowledge and opinions in relation to the topic being studied. There were some good examples of higher-order questions which encouraged students to reflect and respond at a deeper level. Some of these questions were grounded in local situations and events evoking strong responses and facilitating good student engagement. In one instance, the questions asked about the process of organising a group task elicited interesting reactions and responses from individual students which in turn engaged the whole class group and facilitated further learning. This is commended.
Students were assigned group work tasks in most of the lessons observed. The use of group work is commended as it promotes active and independent learning. The process of organisation and collaboration within the group also affords the opportunity to see in practice how the concept of democracy is central to all aspects of their lives. There were some examples of very good management of active learning, where students were assigned to groups, given clear instructions and reminded of the rules for group work. This resulted in the students engaging in the activity in a focused and productive manner. There were other lessons, however, where students needed to be reminded of the ground rules for group work prior to beginning the task, and a shorter timeframe allowed for its completion. Students also need to be made aware of what is expected in terms of the specific outcomes required from the activity.
Most lessons maintained a good balance between teacher instruction and student activity. There was one instance however, where the lesson was teacher directed and the information disseminated was of an organisational nature. Furthermore, the topic was not generated from the work of the previous lessons. This approach did not engage all students and therefore compromised student learning as any opportunity to take ownership of the work was lost. This needs to be addressed. There was another instance where students were assigned group tasks, without sufficient teacher-led instruction to ensure meaningful and productive learning outcomes. Teachers need to remain mindful of structuring their lessons to ensure that the teacher-led instruction is sufficient to support active learning.
Students in Tullow Community School undertake one action project in junior cycle. However, best practice advocates the completion of at least two action projects. This affords students the opportunity to choose which project they wish to write up for their Junior Certificate examination requirement. It is recommended that teachers complete at least two action projects as outlined in the teacher guidelines for CSPE. An action project formed the content of one of the lessons observed during the course of the evaluation. When approaching action projects teachers should ensure that the students have a good knowledge of the relevant concepts in advance so that the proposed project evolves from this learning. Teachers should also afford students optimum learning opportunities by encouraging them to propose and discuss the project from the outset, thereby enabling them to actively engage with the work as both a process and a product.
In some of the lessons observed, there was evidence of very effective classroom management where both teachers and students worked in a positive learning environment of mutual respect. Many students applied themselves to the work in hand and interactions with the inspector revealed a number of them to have a good understanding of the concepts being studied. There were some lessons however, where the teacher’s attention remained focused on a specific group within the class, thereby enabling others to disengage from the work of the lesson without being noticed. The undue attention commanded by the students in such groups also limited opportunities for quieter students to be noticed and to participate. Students were also observed to have disengaged from the work of the lesson in instances where there was insufficient preparation for the group work activity and a lack of understanding by students of the task in hand. A review of classroom management strategies, including the establishment of a clear classroom code of behaviour, seating and grouping arrangements, clear instructions and the use of differentiated worksheets and tasks should help to address this issue.
Student progress is monitored in a variety of ways including question and answer sessions, oral feedback, homework assignments, continuous assessment and examinations.
A review of students’ copies indicated students need to keep a better record of work completed in lessons. To this end, students should write up a report on all activities and findings completed during the lesson. In some instances, homework had been assigned and corrected with comments included. This is good practice as it is both affirming and informing for students. Many of the teachers however, reported that they had not yet given written homework assignments as they had only had one or two lessons with their class groups. While it is acknowledged that CSPE assignments may differ from the more traditional homework exercises, students should keep records of all assignments and how they have been carried out. Teachers should also consider the creation of a student portfolio to include all photocopies distributed and a photo gallery of relevant persons which will help students with revision for their Junior Certificate examination. Consideration should also be given to extending the use of profile statements to all class groups, similar to those used in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). This would serve as a valuable means of supporting students on an ongoing basis in their learning,
Students sit formal tests at Christmas and in the summer. Most students complete the ‘Report on an Action Project’ (RAP) in fulfilment of their requirement for the Junior Certificate examination. Students following the JCSP complete the Course Work Assessment Booklet (CWAB). Secure storage for examination work is assured by the examinations secretary who has an office for this purpose.
Parents are kept informed of students’ progress through the annual parent-teacher meetings and school reports. A review of certificate examination results for CSPE indicated outcomes appropriate to the student cohort.
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, at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published May 2009