An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE)
Saint Angela’s Secondary School
Ursuline Convent, Waterford
Roll number: 64990D
Date of inspection: 27 March 2009
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 St Angela’s Secondary School, Waterford. 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, deputy principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
School management in St Angela’s allocates a single period per week to CSPE in all junior cycle lessons. This is in accordance with Department of Education and Science circulars and is satisfactory. There are sixteen CSPE classes in the weekly timetable, taken by eight teachers in all. Lessons are well spaced across the days of the week and almost half of these are in morning timeslots. Most teachers are timetabled for the subject with more than one class group, helping to forge a team approach to subject delivery, and they have reported themselves to be willing teachers of the subject. The maintenance of a core-team approach, including the designation of a co-ordinator as at present, will be important supports to CSPE delivery in the coming years. This deserves to be striven for even as anticipated staffing changes may come about.
There are some areas of concern in relation to the timetabling of CSPE. A little more emphasis on morning timeslots, if possible, should help to ensure that subject delivery, of one period per week, is not affected by occasional school activities. Of more concern, it is recommended that teachers assigned to CSPE should be teaching the relevant class group for another subject as well, to assist in action project completion and reporting in the main. This arrangement is urged in Department circulars governing CSPE and management has signalled its willingness to address the issue. Some additional focus is also recommended on trying to ensure that CSPE classes retain the same teacher, particularly from second year through to third year; this has not happened in a number of instances, for various reasons.
Some very good steps have been taken to support CSPE in recent years, building on a tradition of social and political awareness at the school over many years. The on-going development of a ‘project room’ is commended; the facility is already a bright and well-appointed room, with good storage and display space, and appropriate group seating arrangements. When the whiteboard is mounted on the wall, this will add a visual support which will facilitate the cohesion of group and project work. A fine stock of CSPE resources has been developed already, through a combination of teachers’ resourcefulness and good budgetary support as needed.
A very good subject-department structure operates in CSPE at the school. A volunteer co-ordinator is in place and subject-planning meetings are facilitated, on average, once a term. The co-ordinator has overseen the development of a CSPE subject plan and the department is commended for the thoroughness and honesty of this plan. The document and the minutes of subject meetings are testament to an active planning focus. The department is also commended for its focus on promoting active learning through departmental meetings and discussions. A good sense of reflective practice is evident from the department’s documentation, instanced by its own suggestion that a greater focus on attendance at in-service training by CSPE team members is desirable. Good contacts also exist between the CSPE department and the Association of Citizenship Teachers (ACT), which are commended.
Through a combination of whole-school support and departmental planning, a very substantial range of citizenship activities has been planned and provided for at the school. During the inspection, significant emphasis was placed on the promotion of ‘Earth Hour’, linking well with the good work being done towards conservation pledges and regaining the Green Flag environmental award for the school. The CSPE department itself played the central role in organising a lovely multicultural celebration of food and cultures on the corridors, while a number of extramural opportunities have also been accessed, including participation in Comhairle na nÓg and City Council initiatives. Visiting speakers have been sourced for CSPE classes, ranging from local Gardaí and environmental officers to speakers on the Oireachtas and Guide Dogs for the Blind. The school’s focus on socio-political concerns beyond the years of compulsory citizenship education is also very well planned for, with activities like a Fair Trade week, ‘Peace One’ Day and development education generally being to the fore in the Transition Year (TY) programme and beyond also.
Good planning and preparation was very evident during the inspection in individual teachers’ work. The CSPE department has made a collective decision on what course concepts teachers will focus on in each year group, and all classes observed were following the department’s outline plan commendably. Individual teachers had prepared lesson plans in a number of instances and had a high degree of support materials in readiness as required. Organisational planning was also very satisfactory, with good use made of handouts, newspaper cuttings or laminated visual supports. This good work permeated down to the most fundamental issues of preparation, from the layout of desks to the provision of materials for mounting students’ posters on walls as required. The cohesiveness of such planning suggests that the next logical step which the department might consider is the pooling of teachers’ resources, ideally in electronic format for use by all CSPE teachers in any classroom linked to the school’s intranet system.
Teachers’ preparedness for individual lessons was found to be of a very high standard and this was reflected in the very good quality of teaching observed in lessons. In some instances, clear oral or board outlines of the aims of individual lessons were given as lessons began, a strategy worth expanding to all classes. Teachers laid strong emphasis on the concepts being dealt with as lessons began, on relevant local or global elements and on the deployment of student-centred resources. The main concepts planned for in the lessons observed were stewardship, human dignity, rights and responsibilities and democracy. Some classrooms also had good visual supports, either using posters or student-generated projects and artwork which added to the CSPE aura. In instances where teachers’ individual lesson notes were examined, a very good awareness of the learning needs and styles of individual students was evident.
Strong emphasis was placed in all lessons on the encouragement of student involvement, wholly appropriate to the active-learning methods espoused by CSPE. Classroom atmosphere was very positive in all lessons, with students focused and ready to learn. In some instances, teachers used short ice-breaking sessions, asking students for any news they had picked up since the last lesson. This was done orally or, on one occasion, as part of a homework feedback, and brought immediate student engagement to the lessons concerned. With oral questioning featuring strongly in most lessons, it was good to note the confidence with which students gave their answers or views as sought. Although at times a little more emphasis could be placed on asking questions of named students rather than of volunteers, in general the focus on encouraging broad student responsiveness was very good. This was so, particularly where teachers added supplementary questions in delving deeper into some students’ responses, or to draw others into discussion, as happened in many instances.
Within a very strong emphasis on student participation in lessons, some excellent use was made of group tasks. Students engaged very naturally in such tasks, often in round-table seating arrangements, tackling issues as diverse as litter, different kinds of responsibility within the school community and modern slavery. Generally, groups were assigned reporters and secretaries to provide feedback to the rest of the class. Teachers monitored and supported the work unobtrusively at all times. Students, in all cases, were very comfortable indeed in discussing and arguing their points, in giving the oral feedback and in their use of prepared group posters. This emphasis on students’ participation had a very important confidence-building benefit as well. It was suggested that the variation of feedback, perhaps even to include all students coming to the board in rotation to write key points from different groups, could also help as a differentiation strategy to support the less expressive student. Occasional difficulties with acoustics and with the standing positions of feedback-givers were minor, as the general tenor and outcomes of the focus on self-directed learning were very impressive indeed. It should be stated that the vast majority of students clearly enjoyed their CSPE lessons, something which inevitably enhanced their learning also.
In lessons, or parts of lessons, where pedagogy was more dominant, teachers laid very good emphasis on clear explanations and on linking material to key terms and course concepts. While a little more emphasis on using visual stimuli is recommended in some lessons, good use of photographs as teaching aids was noted in lessons on modern slavery and the environment. Some very good use of a simple board plan, taking the feedback from group work on different layers of responsibility, is worthy of wider application as a visual support to understanding and retention. A spider diagram was also well used to similar effect in another lesson on interculturalism, as was a board brainstorming session on democracy, again adding visual reinforcement to terms which can sometimes be difficult for students. It is recommended that the department should explore ways in which the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in class can augment such work in time, not least in the emphasis on visual stimuli which has been referred to previously.
Some very good tactics were employed by teachers in seeking to promote longer-term student learning. The quality of explanations and emphasis on visuals apart, teachers also established important links for students between the topics being covered and recognisable aspects of their own lives. Hollywood movies, local places and events, colloquial expressions, food tastes and touches of humour were all introduced at times, to enliven and make material being dealt with as relevant as possible to students. Students also showed, in their own responses and in interactions with the inspector, a fine engagement with citizenship, including an awareness of local democracy, litter and environment issues, the Earth Hour initiative and other issues. It was recommended in a number of lessons that core learning of concepts, key words and issues could be enhanced further by more emphasis on encouraging students to make notes for themselves as lessons proceed, including perhaps the gradual development of a CSPE glossary in their copybooks. Beyond these few suggestions, the quality of students’ learning in CSPE was very impressive.
In the lessons observed, informal assessment of students was effected mainly by oral questioning. While some of this was of a lower-order nature, some teachers also forced students to think more deeply, by asking why and how or using empathetic questions like ‘What would you say if you were this person?’ Homework was appropriately varied, ranging from short question-answering tasks to finding news items, collaborating on poster projects or giving short oral presentations on work completed. These all worked very well. It is commended that teachers were comfortable not only in giving homework on planned concepts but also on current-affairs issues that arose at any particular time. Textbooks were used appropriately to give structure to homework tasks, and it is commendable that short reflective tasks, asking students to identify what they had learnt from lessons, have been employed quite often as vehicles of assessment.
Turning to more formal assessment, it is good to note that classes in second year and third year sit common tests in CSPE, further evidence of solid departmental collaboration. It has been recommended that a somewhat stronger focus on the use of visual stimuli be also adopted in such in-house tests, to mirror the format employed in much state examination materials to date. The department is giving increased consideration to the use of Coursework Assessment Books (CWABs) as a means of assessing students of mixed ability, instead of the Reports on Action Projects (RAPs) currently employed, again evidence of ongoing reflective practice among CSPE teachers. Procedures for the safe storage of RAPs to-date have been very satisfactory, and the school has a fine commitment to supporting the assessment of CSPE through its formal examinations, parent-teacher meetings and reporting structures.
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 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 December 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomes this very positive report on the Teaching and Learning of CSPE in St. Angela’s School.
The findings, as outlined in the report, are consistent with the views of the BOM and staff.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The recommendations made in the report have been implemented since September 2009.