An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE)
Griffith Avenue, Dublin 9
Roll number: 60420L
Date of inspection: 30 September 2008
Report on the Quality of the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Civic, Social and Political Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil Rís. 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 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.
Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) is a compulsory subject in the junior cycle curriculum.
It is commendable that Ardscoil Rís promotes CSPE in a number of ways. For example, it has parity of esteem with other subjects and is included in the Christmas and summer examinations and in progress reports for parents. Parents can discuss student progress in CSPE at parent-teacher meetings. The subject is also explained to parents at the open night that is organised for the parents of first-year students. A small notice board for CSPE is located in one of the corridors. Guest speakers have also been invited to the school in the past. Particularly commended is the cross-curricular approach adopted through the Zambia project. A visit involving ten senior cycle students takes place every second year and during the relevant year, specific links are created with CSPE. The school should seek further ways of promoting the subject’s ethos and the seven concepts (Democracy, Development, Human Dignity, Interdependence, Law, Rights and Responsibilities, Stewardship) that underpin CSPE.
All first years are placed in a mixed-ability setting and this is commended. After this, classes are streamed with some element of mixed-ability setting. For example, there are two top streams in third year, and the remaining two classes are mixed-ability groups. In line with the CSPE ethos, consideration should be given to placing all students in a mixed-ability setting in all year groups in order to encourage greater diversity. The subject’s recommended methodologies and assessment structure are particularly suited to differentiation in mixed-ability settings.
In Ardscoil Rís, allocation of teaching time to CSPE is broadly in line with syllabus guidelines. The school has stated that timetabling ensures optimal learning over the three years of the junior cycle.
Deployment practice is generally good. A team of seven teachers delivers the subject and is deployed in line with circular M13/05. Efforts are made to ensure that CSPE teachers have contact with their class groups through another curricular subject or their roles as class tutor or both. This is commendable since it allows teachers to get to know their classes given the fact that the subject is timetabled once a week. To ensure continuity of teaching, the school has a policy of deploying the same teacher with a class group over the three years of the cycle where possible. Some teachers have more than one class group and most teachers have experience of teaching the subject. This is very positive since it facilitates the development and consolidation of subject expertise. It is reported that the school is supportive of continuous professional development (CPD) and CSPE teachers are facilitated to avail of the in-service training provided by the CSPE support service. There is a very positive attitude to CSPE among the subject teachers.
Experienced teachers who are new to the teaching of CSPE are supported by colleagues. An experienced subject teacher acts as mentor to post-graduate diploma in education (PGDE) students and the management of these is in line with good practice in collaboration with pre-service training colleges. Commendable practice was observed in this regard in one classroom visited. The lesson was conducted by the experienced teacher in collaboration with the PGDE student. The student teacher participated in planning and organising the learning activity and circulated around the groups to both observe and support the students.
Ardscoil Rís has an active student’s council. The school is in the process of extending representation to include all junior cycle students. It is recommended that strong and formal links be developed between the council and the CSPE programme to reinforce key concepts in an immediate and realistic way.
Resources for CSPE, including information and communications technology (ICT) facilities, are adequate. A shelf in a staff resource room is provided for the subject. It is recommended that all resources be catalogued in order to keep track of them, to identify lacunae and to target future spending on resources.
Management supports teachers and students who wish to organise trips and visits that are linked to the CSPE programme. Students have visited such places as the Four Courts in the past and this is commended.
The subject does not have a formal departmental structure and the lack of a co-ordinator is a considerable disadvantage. The teachers meet formally as a group once a year. Records are not kept. A common text is adopted. Individual teachers confer as need requires and it is commendable that there is a positive level of collaboration among subject teachers at an informal and individual level. There is no policy at present and the plan as presented is an outline based on the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) template containing only minimal information. However, it is understood that the subject teachers are conscious of the need to develop planning structures and documentation. It is commendable that a list of past action projects has been included in the outline document.
In line with best practice, it is strongly recommended that a co-ordinator be agreed by the subject teachers and supported by management in order to progress planning, to improve resources for the subject, to improve communications, to ensure cohesion and to promote the subject’s profile in the school. Ideally, the role should be rotated to distribute leadership and responsibility. Management and staff should consult the subject guidelines for information on the role of the subject co-ordinator. The CSPE support services also provide co-ordinator courses.
In tandem with the appointment of a subject co-ordinator, a policy and full subject plan should be developed collaboratively. Learning outcomes for each concept or unit should be specifically outlined and a detailed timeframe for delivery of concepts or units should be agreed. This should be based on the syllabus and the syllabus guidelines and not informed by the textbook which is just one resource among many available. Planning for designated days and procedures on the induction of teachers new to the subject should be among the areas that are fully documented in the plan. Specific ways in which the use of ICT is to be integrated into teaching and learning should be included. Differentiation in process and assessment should be clearly outlined. The catalogue of resources (when completed) should be included. Ideally, an electronic shared folder should be developed for the subject to complement the hard copy. This would facilitate the sharing of resources and greatly enhance the efficiency of updating and disseminating information. When the policy is written up, it should be presented to management for ratification before proceeding to implementation. A review date should be set and all planning should be dated.
Students are given the opportunity to do a number of smaller action projects during the course of the three-year cycle but this practice is largely at the discretion of individual teachers and is not formalised. It is very positive that a student-centred approach is adopted and ideas for projects come from the students. The formal Report on the Action Project (RAP) is completed in third year. In the course of planning for the subject, there should be clear guidelines on the department’s approach to the organisation of action projects and information on the management of the RAPs.
To progress the planning process, there should be more formal subject meetings in line with practice in other subject areas. Records of all meetings should be maintained to track progress in action planning. Apart from administration and planning, department meetings should be used to share and disseminate good practice.
In addition to information that emanates from the CSPE support service (including the fully updated starter pack on CD ROM) and the Department of Education and Science, CSPE is very well supported by a range of materials from a variety of sources including developmental agencies and non-government organisations. A regular and up-to-date stream of information is disseminated to schools and this requires management if all teachers are to be fully informed of the latest developments. The principal disseminates the information to teachers. To relieve the principal of this responsibility, it is recommended that the subject co-ordinator undertake the role. A CSPE notice board could be placed in the staff room to facilitate communication.
Cross-curricular themes are explored to some extent at an individual teacher level. There are well-established links with the Religious Education department. Further development and consolidation of such cross-curricular links should be included in the subject plan.
Planning at an individual level was conscientious. Individual teachers are commended for their planning of future learning activities, for example, the proposed engagement in an Amnesty International competition. In many lessons, a good range of imaginative resources indicated a very thorough and creative approach to planning for teaching and learning and showed that the textbook did not dominate lessons. For example, envelopes containing specific tasks had been prepared in advance in one case and a handout was used to record information for a task in another. All individual schemes should be in line with the department plan when it is fully developed and agreed by the subject teachers.
The lessons observed in each year group were well planned to optimise efficiency. Activities had been carefully orchestrated in all cases with the goal of assisting learning.
The teaching team is highly commended for the good range of teaching methodologies that was deployed. There was a strong emphasis in all cases on the development of a good range of skills and this is laudable. In a mixed-ability first-year group, tasks for a group activity had been pre-organised and arranged to encourage discussion and develop higher-order thinking skills. Excellent practice was observed in a lesson observed where planned learning outcomes were meaningfully linked to classroom activity. For example, students learned the meaning of democracy and election practice by staging an election after three pre-appointed “candidates” made policy speeches. In advance of these activities, a sound learning platform was created: students’ subject vocabulary was reinforced when the teacher displayed key words for the concept on cards and checked understanding. Secondly, prior learning was activated through questioning and students were, for example, asked to explain terms they had previously been taught such as proportional representation. Learning was optimal and the efficient use of lesson time is highly commended. In interaction with the inspector, students had a very good understanding of the concept they were learning, were in good control of subject terminology and were confident, articulate and thoughtful. In another lesson, students developed organisational, communication and research skills through a public speaking activity.
In most cases, the learning intention was clear, and activities were designed to consolidate learning. However, in one lesson observed, the learning outcome did not fully justify the amount of time spent on the learning activity. In addition, some students disengaged from the activity. In such cases, lessons should be reviewed and learning intention, activity and planned outcomes should be assessed and a culture of self-evaluation should be promoted. In all lessons, the learning intention and planned learning outcomes should be explicitly shared with students at the commencement of the lesson and the end of the lesson should ensure that meaningful learning has taken place through a review period.
Very good practice was evident where a diverse range of active learning strategies was implemented for students with a low attention span and this was particularly effective because the lesson took place at a time of day when most students find learning challenging. Students were involved in group work. In a lesson observed, the criteria for participation in group activity were first explored in a whole-class activity to establish clear guidelines. This represents very good practice. Where group work is used to promote collaborative learning, care should be taken to ensure that all students have a clearly defined role and that the activity is time bound. This should keep students on task. The good practice observed in relation to the management of group work should be replicated in all lessons where the strategy is deployed and such good practice should be shared at departmental level.
Classroom management was good in all lessons observed and a positive atmosphere was created for the subject. High expectations of achievement and behaviour were set in cases. The quality of interactions between students and their classmates and between teachers and students was very good. Achievement in the subject is generally good and in line with the school’s expectations. In some cases, very stimulating homework tasks were set that developed the learning objective.
In general more use could be made of the wall space in classrooms for displays. Just a few samples were noted in the classrooms visited. However, the early stage at which the evaluation took place may account, in some measure, for the underutilisation of the classroom as a learning resource. Nonetheless, attractive displays, including displays of students’ own work, should be routinely mounted, whatever the time of year. It would also be helpful to have subject keywords and other learning aids visible, as they are helpful to all students but especially those who may have additional learning needs. Students could be involved in the creation of learning aids and graphic organisers.
As a specific focus for future development, the teaching team should integrate the use of ICT into lesson delivery, as there are a plethora of resources available to the subject. Moreover, presentation slides are useful for information that otherwise takes time to write on the board. Students should be encouraged to make presentations on relevant themes, using ICT.
There is no formal assessment policy for CSPE although there are some guidelines in the outline CSPE document referred to above. It is recommended that an assessment policy be developed as part of the overall plan for the subject.
Students complete the Report on the Action Project, a required assessment component of the Junior Certificate examination, in class. Arrangements for the management of the process and the secure storage of the completed RAPs are satisfactory.
Summative assessment is practised in the school at formal in-house examinations and through occasional tests. At the end of first year, and in line with all other subjects, common papers are set for CSPE since these examinations are used for determining access to the upper streams in second year. As a result, there is a good level of communication and collaboration among the first-year teachers. Consideration should be given to holding common assessment tests for all classes in second and third year, with differentiated outcomes being factored into the design of the test papers. The certificate examination is common level. A second assessment component should be factored into in-house formal examinations to replicate the certificate examination structure. It is good practice to analyse outcomes of formal assessment, including the Junior Certificate examination, as the information gleaned can be used to inform teaching practice in addition to providing feedback to students and parents, management and other concerned professionals as need dictates.
Formative assessment was observed for example, where teachers challenged students to think and consider their responses, thus encouraging self-assessment.
It is commendable that most teachers keep personal records of student attendance. However, it was noted that in a minority of cases, there is reliance on the school system of attendance record keeping and no personal records are maintained. As the evaluation took place early in the school year, and not many lessons had taken place, there was little evidence of assessment records and very little evidence of homework set in journals. However, this may change as the year proceeds. In a minority of cases, students did not have their homework journals in class. As this is an organisational skill that students learn, and the journal may be used as a medium of communication with parents, all teachers should insist that students have their homework journals ready at all times. To ensure consistency, the department should agree practice on the allocation of homework of whatever kind in the subject area and should universally ensure that students document homework assignments even where these involve research or extension type activities that are not written. These arrangements should be listed in the subject plan and implemented by all teachers. In line with good professional practice, it is recommended that all teachers keep accurate written personal records of assessment and attendance. Assessment criteria across a range of subject specific skills should be agreed and implemented. Students should keep full portfolios of work they have done and should be encouraged to develop self awareness through reflection on their work.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Deployment of teachers in the subject is good.
· There is a good level of collaboration between teachers at an informal and individual level for specific purposes.
· Learning activities were meaningful in most cases.
· A very good range of methodologies was used.
· Student achievement is good.
· Record keeping was good in most cases.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· In line with best practice, it is strongly recommended that a co-ordinator be appointed for CSPE, that the role be rotated, that regular formal meetings be held and a plan developed for the subject to include a detailed policy on assessment.
· The good practice observed of aligning learning intention with learning outcomes through a range of well-planned and meaningful activities should be a model for all lessons and learning outcomes should be shared with students.
· Accurate written teacher records of attendance and assessment should be maintained in all cases in line with good professional practice and all students should have their homework journals to hand in all lessons.
· Strong and formal links should be developed between the student council and the CSPE programme to reinforce key concepts in an immediate and realistic way.
· The teaching team should integrate the use of ICT into teaching and learning.
· The school should seek further ways of promoting the subject’s ethos.
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 January 2009