An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of
Civic, Social and Political Education
Our Lady of
Roll number: 64971W
Date of inspection: 9, 10 and 11 April, 2008
Report on The Quality of Learning and Teaching in Civic, Social and Political Education
This report has been written following a subject
inspection in Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School,
All junior cycle students at Our Lady of Mercy School study CSPE for one period of forty minutes per week. This is in line with curricular regulations and the school is applauded for its efforts to ensure that CSPE classes are timetabled in satisfactory timeslots. This has meant that CSPE classes are spread quite evenly between morning and afternoon timeslots, with the proviso that no class is scheduled for the last period of any day. This is done in order to ensure that a meeting, half day or other intervention does not disrupt what amounts to effectively a week’s provision for CSPE. Management and the CSPE teachers are commended on agreeing to this support to the subject. Also commended is the fact that teachers retain the same class for CSPE from one year to the next, where timetable exigencies allow.
The school has done its utmost to comply with Departmental circulars and guidelines in relation to CSPE. While the co-ordinator was initially appointed in a somewhat random fashion, it is acknowledged that the teachers involved in CSPE delivery are generally happy to be teaching the subject. The facts that the school is quite large, with a total of thirteen CSPE classes weekly at present, and that teachers are necessarily drawn from diverse subject backgrounds, are central reasons for some difficulties in CSPE organisation. One area which needs to be kept under review is the fact that over half of the CSPE classes do not have their CSPE teacher for another subject as well. Reducing this figure is desirable, in order to facilitate the sort of timetable flexibility required for action project work in particular, as recommended in Circular M13/05. The situation where one teacher currently has three third-year classes, all naturally doing reports on their action projects (RAPs), but does not have any of the classes for another subject, makes it a greater challenge to completing the RAPs. The avoidance of such situations in future years has been graciously acknowledged by management as a priority consideration.
Whole-school support for CSPE is very good. Budgeting is as needs arise, and as school finances allow, although the department has pointed out that there is no shortage of excellent support materials available to teachers from the CSPE support service, the internet and other sources. It is not feasible to have a designated CSPE classroom within the school and such resources are stored by the co-ordinator for teachers’ use as required. The school is roundly applauded for its broader support for citizenship-related activities also, including the vibrant student council, the Green Schools project and the week-long celebration of cultural diversity which was underway at the time of the inspection. The possibilities of using student council elections and their organisation as an action project for some CSPE classes has been discussed with teachers and will be given active consideration in time to come. The school is also fortunate in having a politics graduate on staff, given that a new senior cycle subject called Politics and Society may come on stream within a few years, should the school be interested in extending the CSPE theme to Leaving Certificate level.
The CSPE department consists of eight teachers at present, including the co-ordinator who has organisational and resource storage roles, as well as responsibility for matters associated with the storage of RAPs prior to the Junior Certificate examination in CSPE. Because of the diversity of teachers’ involvement in other subject areas, it has not been feasible to date for more than one subject meeting a year to be held in CSPE. It is important that more opportunities for such formal meetings be provided if at all possible. Furthermore, it is advisable that agreed agendas and minutes of decisions reached and issues raised be maintained for each such meeting, while ensuring that as much time as possible be devoted to the sharing of ideas on teaching and learning among members of the department. Such agendas and minutes, along with lists of available resources if possible, might be productively included in the department planning folder as time allows. Good collaboration has been evident in the setting of common examinations in first and second year, while a fine commitment to organising student participation in activities such as the recent ‘Big Ballot’ and in city council visits has also been in evidence across several classes. It has been noted that no teacher has attended an in-service session for CSPE in the past two years and it is recommended that this be kept under review. Where the completion of RAPs for the state examination has been observed, an acceptable level of teacher support has been given, with students facilitated in completing their reports individually merely with the aid of structured reminders of their roles in class projects. This is satisfactorily in line with Departmental guidelines and is commended.
Individual planning for CSPE has been satisfactory across the lessons observed. The department has identified broad aspirations in terms of which concepts are to be covered in each year but this has also allowed teachers the flexibility of inserting focused work on action projects, topical issues or initiatives like the Big Ballot as they arise. This is good practice. Some very good social and community projects have been planned and all material covered in lessons was in line with the CSPE syllabus and with the seven concepts therein. A good mix between local, national and international perspectives has also been evidenced across lesson planning. Some teachers had prepared written outlines of lesson plans but all delivered well-organised lessons regardless, with good arrangements in place for group work or for the deployment of handout materials as required. Although classrooms are not subject-based or teacher-based, a good degree of CSPE-relevant visual displays, including some student work, was seen in some classrooms and is applauded. It is suggested that the placing of a reminder of the concept being dealt with on the board at the outset of lessons, or perhaps the use of posters depicting the concepts around the school, could further assist in focusing students’ understanding of rights and responsibilities, stewardship and other concepts. Beyond this, a good, structured yet flexible approach to lesson planning has been evident in CSPE lessons and is applauded.
In all CSPE lessons observed, the rapport between teachers and students was exceptional from the outset. Discipline was natural and unforced, with high levels of student interaction with their teachers being the norm. Teachers were warm and affirming of students’ work, making for very pleasant learning environments in all cases. Good desk layout was also an important feature of the classrooms visited. With all classes having between twenty-two and twenty-seven students, space was relatively tight but there was sufficient facility for teachers to move around the room and interact with students as desired. Furthermore, the non-fixed nature of the desks and chairs was a support to the group and pair working activities which occurred at some point in most lessons.
Self-directed learning is a particularly important feature of CSPE delivery and a fine focus on encouraging this was noted in the lessons observed. Teachers gave very clear directions about any pair or group tasks to be carried out and it was also notable that students participated in such activities with ease, being quite evidently used to doing such work. As with teacher-student rapport, the interactions among students themselves were always positive and supportive. Students engaged in analysis of stimulus material on topics like homelessness, election voting and environmental concerns, in pairs, and in group discussion of local needs as mock town planners. In all cases, it was made clear to students what the aims of the work involved were and also, importantly, how the task related to a particular course concept or unit of study. It was very evident that not only did students undertake the work assigned to them in such contexts but that they also enjoyed the discussions and debates which ensued as part of the learning process. They were clearly developing important social skills in the process, including listening skills and the ability to look at issues from differing perspectives. Feedback from students’ work was usually given through teacher-led questioning or sometimes by the use of a rapporteur for each group. Some excellent board-based templates or charts were employed by teachers to accommodate the feedback, while the added possibility of involving all students as feedback-givers through rotating visits to the board has been offered as an additional means of ensuring that the mixed ability nature of classes can be factored into feedback sessions.
Apart from the use of pair work and group work, a number of good student-centred strategies were otherwise prominent in CSPE lessons. The use of the opening minutes of a lesson to get students to report on any news items was a good ice-breaker observed in one lesson, with the suggestion that local news items ought to be pushed as well as the more global ones. This is a particularly good strategy for building self-confidence in students, in addition to the citizenship and political learning that it gauges. Elsewhere, students were asked to carry out short reading tasks in class, from textbooks or from resources supplied by the support service or non-governmental agencies (NGOs), with others asked to comment on and analyse the material. This too worked well. The use of a form of walking debate, where students discussed their views and preferences while rotating to particular locations around the room in a previous, unobserved, lesson is also commended.
In a number of classes, it has been evident that very important community-based action projects have been undertaken, with significant student involvement all through in organising events or visits and all the related details. This is all very much part of desired practice in CSPE and the commitment to such genuine activity on teachers’ parts is roundly applauded. In classroom contexts, at times, a little more emphasis on student-centred ‘learning by doing’, so to speak, and a little less on teacher-focused delivery has been recommended. However, in the main a very satisfactory balance was achieved in all lessons observed. It is commendable that where teacher delivery was employed, a fine emphasis on making the material relevant to students was observed, with material drawn form topical television programmes, current affairs and local and national newspapers all helping to ensure that students see CSPE as a subject with real currency.
In terms of assisting student retention, particularly with the limited class-contact time available nationally in CSPE, some additional recommendations have been offered. In some classes, a good regime of students retaining handouts in folders has been evident and this practice is offered as one which deserves general employment. The focus of lessons in the main was, and should be, on student activity. Ensuring that students make notes of any significant new information, or perhaps that they develop a glossary of subject-specific terms in their copybooks as they encounter them is worthy of consideration when time allows, as an additional support to retention. One challenge faced in any lesson which relies on discussion in the main is to ensure that all students gain and retain what they have learnt from the discussion. Accordingly, with a view to giving visual emphasis to otherwise-oral information, and to ensure that the oral responses of quiet students are taken in by all other students, a greater emphasis on using the whiteboard has been recommended in some classroom contexts. These are minor recommendations and suggestions in the context of the very satisfactory levels of teaching and learning evident overall in the CSPE classrooms visited.
The CSPE department operates a common assessment policy in terms of end of term and end of year examinations. This is done in a consultative manner, with draft papers being produced initially by the co-ordinator and circulated for review by the other teachers in a particular year group. While there is no common CSPE homework policy, it has also been noted that a wide range of assessment methods have been employed across the lessons observed, including the use of mini-debates and the writing of a script for a television programme, both of which are excellent strategies for promoting reflection and argument among students. Other homework forms employed include written and visual stimulus-driven questions, workbooks, past examination papers and occasional drawing tasks. It has been suggested, on occasion, that the departmental discussions on teaching and learning which have been recommended in a previous section of this report might also consider the pooling of different assessment ideas, including wordsearch and crossword games, for additional use in CSPE assessment.
As previously intimated, the procedures identified during the course of this inspection for the completion of RAPs have been satisfactory. It is also commended that some teachers have made excellent use of blank RAP pro forma booklets to assist students outside of State examination classes in focusing their learning within action projects. The only caveat which has been recommended for consideration in RAP completion is to ensure that where a project undertaken within a concept like human dignity or rights and responsibilities has links to a health issue, the project should focus as much as possible on the CSPE-related skills and learning outcomes and not on the health issue in itself, as this could be deemed a Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) issue otherwise. This advice has been taken on board.
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, September 2008