Subject Inspection – CSPE

This report has been written following a subject inspection in Saint Paul’s Community College,Waterford. 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 informal discussions with 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. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.


All classes in junior cycle at St. Paul’s Community College have CSPE for one period per week.
This is in line with Department of Education and Skills circulars M12/01 and M13/05. A previous
practice of using parts of CSPE lessons for pastoral care activities has been discontinued in the
present academic year, and this is commended as it will better ensure that the specified time
requirements for CSPE delivery, of seventy hours over the three-year junior cycle, are met.
Timetable analysis shows that CSPE classes are evenly spread across the week and are given
morning timeslots where possible. This is important with just one class-contact time per week

A teaching team of seven is responsible for CSPE delivery in the current academic year,
involving a total of ten class groups. As it has been made clear that a number of these teachers did
not express a desire to teach CSPE, it is recommended that management include a question on
willingness to teach CSPE when staff teaching preferences are surveyed each year. In some
instances, teachers have their CSPE class groups for another subject as well, which is an aid to
getting to know students and to subject management. In other cases, teachers have their classes
for CSPE only and it is urged that this be minimised as much as possible in future timetabling.
Similarly, while it is quite acceptable for CSPE classes to have a change of teacher between first
year and second year, it is recommended that changes of teacher from second year to third year,
which have happened quite often to date in the school, be kept to a minimum annually.

Apart from the timetabling issues outlined above, whole-school support for CSPE is very good.
Teachers have been assisted in accessing in-service training from the former CSPE Support
Service, and in requests for subject-specific resources. Students are very well supported with
folders and other materials for their class work. The school’s library and librarian play central
roles in supporting CSPE activities, developing and maintaining resources and hosting
citizenship-related events. A genuinely strong culture of citizenship pervades the school and links
have been forged with Oireachtas representatives, the City Council, Dr Barnardo’s, the Gardaí,
the Waterford Europe Direct Information Centre and local branches of the Irish Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Guide Dogs for the Blind. A range of visiting theatre
activities and arts initiatives have had a strong citizenship dimension to them, and the school
places strong emphasis on active citizenship in the school community through Transition Year
(TY) mentoring programmes, student involvement in open nights and a range of charity
fundraising activities in the community and for the Haitian disaster. The annual student council
elections have become major focal points in school life and the student voice and expression is
given significant emphasis in the school. Designated times of particular emphasis, such as an antibullying
week involving students and parents, and a multicultural week, are also deserving of
commendation as part of the evident fabric of school life and support for citizenship education.


Teachers of CSPE have developed a clear subject plan, with yearly schemes of work and records
of the meetings held by the department. In the current academic year, two formal team meetings
have been held, with a good focus on practical issues around the organisation of visiting speakers
and the restoration of the required time for CSPE delivery. In the past, a CSPE co-ordinator
position was filled as part of the school’s post-of-responsibility structure. This is not the case at
present, due to a change of posts a few years ago and not through any current moratorium issues.
It is recommended that the department give serious consideration to the appointment of a subject
convenor or organiser, ideally on a rotating basis, with some focused duties designed to ensure
that issues of concern to the department are progressed. These duties could be agreed
collaboratively and should include the matter of coordinating details of visiting speakers so that
classes other than those being visited formally may be able to engage with the visitors too. The
subject plan includes an awareness of cross-curricular opportunities relevant to CSPE, and clearly
values the co-curricular activities already discussed. To complement these further, it is
recommended that a future department meeting should give active consideration to how CSPE
delivery can support overall literacy and numeracy strategies at the school, within the context of
DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) planning.

The yearly planning for CSPE presented, reflects coverage of all seven course concepts and an
appropriate focus on local, national and global perspectives. There has been some necessary
compression of course coverage, due to the previously mentioned pastoral care time allocated
within CSPE lessons, and this needs to be better spaced. Ideally, the completion of two or
possibly three concepts in first year is ample, with a further two or three in second year and the
remainder in third year. At present, course planning sees one action project included, mainly in
third year. The guidelines for teachers of CSPE, published in 2005, suggest that at least two
action projects be undertaken during the three-year cycle, and this is recommended as a target to
aim for once previous time shortages have been rectified. Undertaking two action projects,
concurrently with the related course concepts, gives students a broader range of project
experience and greater options when reports are needed as part of Junior Certificate assessment.
Teachers are commended on the very significant amounts of preparation which were evident in
both the lessons observed and within teachers’ own folders. Records of attendance were
meticulously maintained. Some classrooms had been decorated with a high degree of illustrative
material related to CSPE, including some students’ project work which is particularly supportive
of learning. Large amounts of preparatory items had also been developed, ranging from an
individual lesson plan to text-based handouts, maps, pictures, old newspapers and other resources.
In all classrooms, teachers were proactive in ensuring that student materials such as pencils,
scissors, glue and other items were readily available when needed, and excellent collection and
dissemination practices obtained in relation to students’ folders.


The quality of teaching and the learning opportunities afforded to students in the CSPE lessons
were generally very good. In all classes observed, a pleasant and relatively informal atmosphere
obtained, where students were comfortable and ready for work within moments of the roll being
taken. In most classes, teachers presented both oral and written statements of the lesson aims,
which is commendable practice. These aims were usually placed on the board and left there for
the duration of the lesson, allowing students to revisit them and see how their learning was
progressing. Some very good colour-coding of lesson aims in one instance, and oral restating of
them in most lessons, ensured that students were very clear on what was expected of them and
gave a clear structure to lessons and to learning activity.

The lessons observed during the evaluation covered local community development, the growth of
the European Union (EU), recycling and the features of good and bad societies. These topics were
all clearly linked to different course concepts. It is recommended, as a reinforcement to learning,
that the relevant concept be highlighted to students at the outset of all lessons as well. In all
lessons, a wide range of resources was used, and it is commendable that these were well balanced
between verbal and visual stimuli. Text-based materials on town development, map templates on
the EU, text and visual stimulus materials on recycling and a hoard of newspapers for a cutting
and pasting exercise were among the resources used. Some of the resources required students to
write, others asked them to identify and mark items, or to colour code them. A newspaper-cutting
project allowed students to use visual, textual or a mixture of both types of material. All of these
resources allowed for differentiation and the accommodation of different abilities and learning
styles among students, which is highly commended. In time, the department is also urged to
explore ways in which the school’s information and communication technology (ICT) can assist
in the storage of such resources and their use in some lessons.

Several of the resources around which lessons were built had the added benefit of promoting
student activity through group work, or through colouring in relevant items or sorting them into
social categories. Where group tasks were assigned, these were done with little fuss apart from
some furniture moving of limited value. Teachers struck a good balance between designating
individuals and jobs to different groups, and allowing for independent group decision making.
Reporters and recorders emerged from the different groups very readily, helping to build
students’ confidence, while group tasks were shared very well by students, with almost all
participating fully in any activities. Teacher monitoring of activities was good, being supportive
rather than overbearing, and in the lessons where team-teaching was employed or where special
needs assistants (SNAs) were present, the extra adult presence was utilised very well by all
teachers in promoting student engagement and participation. Teachers and SNAs all showed keen
awareness of the challenges facing individual students.

As lessons proceeded and the achievement of learning targets came more into focus, teachers
generally employed significant oral questioning to gauge student learning. Sometimes questioning
was a little too general, seeking hands up in the main, and it is recommended that questions
directed at named students be included in all lessons. These strategies can support and encourage
learning. Questionnaires and self-scoring strategies were gainfully employed, as were the project
displays which students had worked on during the lesson, as methods of bringing learning
outcomes to the fore as lessons closed. Where needed, the quality of the explanations and
clarifications given by teachers across a range of issues was very good, and it was noted that
several local or school-based examples were drawn on to ensure student understanding of some
more difficult issues. It was very good to see the white board used in most lessons to identify key
points, supplied by students themselves, which supported the achievement of learning intentions
and also the development of student self-confidence. It is recommended that further consideration
be given to ways in which literacy and numeracy can be supported through questioning and any
tasks done during lessons, but in every other respect the effective reinforcement of learning was
evident as lessons closed. It was also notable that time was managed very well in all lessons,
allowing for review questioning, students filing away their work and the return of resources and
desks to their original places before any lesson ended.


A range of good informal assessment methods have been observed in the CSPE lessons visited. In
a number of lessons, students present came within the remit of the Junior Certificate School
Programme (JCSP) and teachers showed a fine awareness of the need to question students on key
words and also to comply with JCSP statements. Good oral questioning, and provision of
opportunities for students to discuss and question for themselves, were features of all lessons.
Some effective in-class pictorial and illustration tasks, self-directed questionnaires and newspaper
research which allowed for both verbal and visual investigation were used in lessons. In most
lessons, time was found to return to the learning intentions stated at the outset, which formed a
good basis for review and consolidation of learning. In general, very efficient practice was in
evidence when it came to students storing their work in designated CSPE folders. This was at
optimum level where a filing system was clearly in evidence, and it is suggested that such a filing
system built around course concepts and numbering would be appropriate in all CSPE lessons and
could reinforce subject literacy and numeracy as well as retention. Home tasks sometimes related
to in-class activities and in some instances were linked to sections of students’ workbooks, or to
more self-directed tasks like poster making, which is a particularly useful means of evaluating
engagement as well as learning.

On a more formal level, the school currently includes CSPE in all tests for second-year and thirdyear
students, including pre-examinations. This is good practice, as is the inclusion of CSPE in
report templates and at parent-teacher meetings. Consideration is currently being given to the
employment of formal end-of-year examinations in first year and it is recommended that CSPE be
included in such examinations if this is the direction taken. Where examinations are held, it is
reported that common papers are set across year groups and it is recommended that examples of
past common papers ought to be stored in the CSPE subject folder, for reference purposes. For
Junior Certificate, some class groups complete a report on an action project (RAP) while others
compile a coursework assessment book (CWAB). There are merits in both of these but it is
important that the department discuss the merits and demerits of these assessment modes. If
possible, a cohesive rationale for using one or, if felt necessary, each of these modes ought to be
arrived at, with appropriate consideration given to the mode which best suits the ability levels of
different class groups.


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

•CSPE is now appropriately timetabled for all junior cycle classes at the school.
•Teachers and students of CSPE are well supported by resourcing and budgeting
arrangements at the school.
•Many very important whole-school supports for citizenship education exist outside of
classroom contexts at the school, with the school’s library service being a particularly
important support.
•Very thorough levels of individual teacher preparation were in evidence.
•Very good teaching, linked to CSPE concepts and desired methodology, was
observed in all lessons.
•Very good learning opportunities were provided in all lessons observed, enhanced by
an emphasis on student activity and reinforcement.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following
key recommendations are made:
•A more stringent effort is urged to ensure that CSPE is taught by teachers who
volunteer for the subject and who also have continuity and regular contact with their
•The CSPE department ought to appoint a subject convenor or organiser on a rotating
•Active consideration should be given to doing more than one action project with
classes over the three years of junior cycle.
•Wherever possible, the exploration of how literacy and numeracy can be reinforced
through CSPE is worthwhile.
•The CSPE department ought to discuss and agree on the rationale behind the current
varied practice in the coursework assessment component of the subject.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the principal near the conclusion of the evaluation when
the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.