An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme
Christian Brothersí School
Mitchelstown, Co. Cork
Roll Number: 62420V
Date of inspection: 2 December 2009
This report has been written following an evaluation of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) in Christian Brothersí School (CBS) Mitchelstown. It presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the programme in the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held meetings with the school principal, the programme co-ordinator and with a small group of students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector liaised with the programme co-ordinator and visited classrooms to observe teaching and learning. The inspector provided oral feedback to the teacher on lessons observed. The inspector also examined studentsí work and reviewed relevant documentation pertaining to the programme, as well as teachersí written preparation. The outcomes of the evaluation were discussed with the school principal and the deputy principal who is also the programme co-ordinator. 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.
CBS Mitchelstown is an all-boysí voluntary secondary school in Mitchelstown which caters for a current enrolment of 311 boys. The original school dates back to 1857 and the present site houses both primary and secondary schools. In 1970 an additional secondary school building was erected alongside the original school building and in 1997, further expansion was carried out to provide additional classroom accommodation. Programmes on offer within the school include the Leaving Certificate, Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied, Transition Year and the LCVP.
1.1 Whole-school support
The LCVP was introduced into CBS Mitchelstown in 2001 and is now well established in the school. There is one class group in both fifth and sixth years. Currently one teacher is responsible for teaching the Link Modules to both groups and is timetabled for a double period weekly with each group. The guidance counsellor has a timetabled period once a week with sixth-year students. While the time allocation in fifth year falls short of the recommended three periods weekly, the fact that students have an extra class period for Guidance in sixth year goes some way towards compensating for this shortfall.
Students who take LCVP are timetabled against Physical Education (PE) and Applied Mathematics, so that students who opt for the programme do not have any PE lessons or cannot opt for Applied Mathematics. This is having a very negative impact both on LCVP uptake and retention of students taking the programme. Due to a high drop-out rate, the current sixth-year group has four students. Students cited the lack of PE as one of the main reasons for this drop-out rate. In a whole-school evaluation carried out in the school in 2005, it was recommended that this timetabling arrangement be reviewed. It is again strongly recommended that, in order to secure the continuation of this very worthwhile programme within the school, these timetabling arrangements be changed.
Teachers are facilitated and encouraged to undertake relevant professional development and recent LCVP in-service has contributed to the planning of the programme. Information gleaned from in-service is appropriately shared with LCVP students and this is encouraged. As required by the syllabus, an appropriate language module, consisting of one lesson per week over the course of the two years, is provided for those students who are not taking a modern European language other than Irish and English in the Leaving Certificate. It is suggested that written accreditation should be provided by the school for those students who successfully complete this language module.
Resources for the programme are good. Teacher-based classrooms have good storage facilities, and a data projector and laptop have been provided for use in the LCVP teacherís classroom. Other teaching resources are provided on a needs basis and this seems to be working satisfactorily.
Students are timetabled for the computer room during link module lessons and students have good access to information and communication technology (ICT). Effective use is made of ICT both in generating teaching resources and in monitoring studentsí work.†
Teachersí links with the Business Studies department bring relevant expertise to the programme and appropriate input is provided by the guidance counsellor, who also acts as co-ordinator for the programme, along with the role of deputy principal.
1.3 Student selection and support
Parents and students are well informed about the programme and its benefits, and an information night and booklet containing information about the programme are provided for all parents and students. Information about the programme is also included in the school brochure. Students with the appropriate subject groupings are encouraged to take the programme and an initial induction is given to these students at the beginning of the first year of the programme, which is good practice. The entrance criteria for the programme are in line with LCVP objectives. It is, however, recommended that management, together with the whole staff, review and evaluate uptake and retention of the programme, along with the timetabling recommendations made previously.
Links with the special educational needs department are strong and good support is provided for those LCVP students who need it. Good awareness of individual studentsí needs is in evidence. The co-ordinatorís involvement with the special educational needs department strengthens these links.
1.4 Home-school links
Communications between the school and parents are good. Regular parent-teacher meetings and twice-yearly written reports keep parents informed regarding their sonís progress. Parents are welcome to contact the school to meet with individual teachers when required and are contacted individually if necessary.
The school has developed many contacts with local enterprises, third-level institutions and voluntary agencies. Close links with the local Credit Union have provided support in the form of mock interviews for students, and a homework club has been set up in the school with the support of the local St.Vincent de Paul Society. As part of their enterprise activities, LCVP students raise funds for, and organise, an annual party for senior citizens in the community. Studentsí work-experience placements also help to maintain the many links with local businesses and employers. All of this is very positive.
An LCVP plan is in place which shows evidence of good work. It includes information on the implementation of the LCVP, details of the students currently enrolled in the programme, the aims of the programme, available teaching resources, overall curriculum content for each year group, assessment procedures, reporting procedures, marking schemes, the language module content and includes many of the very useful teaching resources produced by the LCVP support service. Resources include checklists for portfolio preparation, the specific learning outcomes of the programme, details of voluntary and community organisations related to the programme, information on work-experience arrangements, information for parents and relevant circulars. It is recommended that development of this plan should further expand the curricular content and schemes of work for each year group, linking the teaching resources, and methodologies used, to the various studentsí tasks. In line with the aims of the programme, particular emphasis should be placed on looking at ways of further encouraging studentsí independent learning and self-evaluation. It is also recommended that planning for the programme should look at the possibility of creating more cross-curricular links, particularly with vocational subject groupings.
Informal meetings between the LCVP co-ordinator and the teacher of the Link Modules are held regularly, to monitor studentsí progress, to plan activities, to prepare for events such as visits to enterprises and visitors to the classroom and to manage general housekeeping arrangements. Minutes of these meetings are kept in the LCVP file and it is suggested that these should also be relayed to the principal. The deputy principal takes on the roles of guidance counsellor and LCVP co-ordinator. It is suggested that this should be reviewed in light of the workload which this involves. It is evident that the co-ordinator and the teacher of the Link Modules co-operate well.
Evaluation of the programme has, to date, taken the form of informal discussion about the programme. As no formal review has been undertaken in recent years, it is recommended that a full review of the programme, its uptake and retention of students, timetabling arrangements, the roles of personnel involved and possibilities for whole-staff involvement be carried out. It is suggested that studentsí input (perhaps in the form of questionnaires) would be an important element of this review. It is also recommended that an annual evaluation of the programme be carried out and that this process should, in the long term, also involve feedback from students, parents and the wider school community.
The school had been involved in the process of school development planning until a few years ago but it was noted during the evaluation that no formal work has recently been undertaken in relation to whole-school or subject department planning. The school is strongly urged to re-engage in the process of collaborative whole-school development planning to maximise school improvement and effectiveness, and to encourage school self-evaluation and reflective practice. It is further suggested that there is particular benefit to be gained from focusing on teaching and learning methodologies through collaborative subject department planning.
The LCVP co-ordinator has good experience and a thorough knowledge of the programme. As guidance counsellor, the co-ordinator has regular contact with the LCVP students and knows the students well. However, as many of the co-ordination tasks for the programme are being carried out by the teacher of the Link Modules, it is suggested that there is a need for clarity of roles. †It is recommended that the roles of both the co-ordinator and the teacher in the co-ordination of the programme be clarified, and that time for co-ordination of the programme be factored into timetabling. It would be of benefit to have some added input from other members of staff in order to expand the team involved in the organisation of the programme. The overall programme co-ordinator in the school may have a role here.
Members of staff are, commendably, kept informed regarding studentsí activities in relation to the programme. It is suggested, however, that more whole-staff consultation and involvement in the programme would be of benefit and is encouraged. This could help to develop more cross-curricular activities, particularly with the vocational subject groupings. A dedicated LCVP notice board in the staffroom would help to highlight the programme and ensure that the rest of the staff is kept au fait with programme developments.
The LCVP curriculum provided by the school complies with programme guidelines and is appropriately broad and balanced. Work experience is an integral part of programme and a template is provided to employers to give students feedback on their performance, which is good practice. Students have access to Guidance, with one-to-one contact in fifth year and timetabled class contact time in sixth year. Throughout the programme there is good provision for students to develop their ICT skills. The language module provided for those students who need it is well planned and suited to the aims of the programme.
3.1 Planning and preparation
During the evaluation, planning for individual lessons was of a high standard and took cognisance of the differing abilities of students. Lesson content was challenging and appropriate to the syllabus. Good evidence was shown of the integration of ICT into both teaching and learning. Students are provided with assessment criteria and are thereby encouraged to assess their own learning. This is highly encouraged. It is suggested that planning for lessons should focus on ways of increasing opportunities for independent and co-operative learning.
3.2 Learning and teaching
Teaching was good, with well-structured lessons which were suited to studentsí abilities and interests. Learning activities were challenging while remaining within studentsí capabilities. Very good attention was paid to individual students. The good practice of sharing the lesson aims with the students at the outset was in evidence. Links were made with studentsí everyday experience, making lesson content more relevant to the students. There was evidence of continuity of learning in the lessons observed, with references to previous learning. Lessons included a range of activities and it is suggested that this could be expanded to include more opportunities for studentsí active involvement.
A variety of resources was used successfully to engage students in their work. Strategies such as peer assessment, role plays and the use of spider diagrams were used to very good effect. Further development of the use of peer assessment is greatly encouraged as a way of increasing the studentsí ability to assess and improve their own work. In one instance, it was noted that students did not take note of the very useful information which was summarised on the whiteboard, so it is recommended that students be encouraged to make notes of salient points during class discussions and teacher input. In another instance it was suggested that, as an alternative to teacher questioning, a brainstorming exercise would have provided more opportunity for all students to be involved. The teacher demonstrated very good knowledge of course content.
There was evidence of appropriate learning taking place and students demonstrated good understanding of lesson content and of previous learning. Students engaged well in class and showed an ability to apply their learning where relevant. They were enthusiastic and purposeful in class. Studentsí responses to questioning and a review of studentsí task work such as curriculum vitae (CVs) and career investigations showed evidence of good understanding and an ability to complete and record tasks effectively. It is evident that students are acquiring the appropriate skills. Specific learning outcomes and marking schemes are shared with students which is a good practice. This could be further developed to ensure that students are fully aware of what is expected of them, thus encouraging them to take responsibility for their own learning. It is also suggested that practice with case studies and examination papers should be incorporated into the first year of the programme to ensure that students develop the necessary skills for examination purposes.
Students showed an awareness of the benefits they have gained from participating in the programme, specifically the development of ICT skills, research methods, report writing and teamwork. It was clear that benefits have been gained from the LCVP studentsí involvement in community projects and from the contribution of local enterprises to the school.
At all times the classroom atmosphere was positive and conducive to learning. Very good teacher/student rapport was in evidence and the teacher was consistently affirming of studentsí efforts. Classroom management of student tasks was excellent. It was suggested in one instance that when introducing role play activities, the desk situation should be changed to vary the classroom dynamics. There was evidence of LCVP-related posters on the walls of the LCVP classroom and in the computer room. Creating a stimulating environment for the programme is good practice and further development of this is encouraged.
Assessment is carried out through regular monitoring of studentsí class work and homework, through questioning in class and through formal in-house examinations. There is evidence of good attention to detail, and formative comments are provided for students on work completed, which is good practice. There is evidence of homework being assigned and monitored, an important element in reinforcing learning. It is recommended that students should be required to write at the end of every lesson or series of lessons in order to develop the necessary report-writing skills. Studentsí attendance and progress are systematically monitored and recorded. It is good practice that LCVP is included in reports to parents, twice-yearly, during both years of the programme.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Teachers are facilitated and encouraged to undertake relevant professional development.
∑ Resources for the programme are good, with appropriate access to ICT.
∑ Parents and students are well informed about the programme and its benefits.
∑ Communications between the school and parents are good and strong links have been established with the local community.
∑ Appropriate support from the guidance department is provided for LCVP students.
∑ The LCVP plan shows evidence of good work.
∑ The LCVP co-ordinator has good experience and a thorough knowledge of the programme.
∑ Planning for individual lessons was of a high standard and took cognisance of the differing abilities of students.
∑ Teaching was good, with well-structured lessons which were suited to studentsí abilities and interests.
∑ There was evidence of appropriate learning taking place and students were at all times fully engaged with classroom activities. Very good teacher/student rapport was in evidence.
∑ Good assessment and reporting procedures for the programme are in place.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
∑ It is strongly recommended that the situation where students have to choose between Physical Education and LCVP be discontinued.
∑ The roles of the LCVP co-ordinator and teacher of Link Modules in the co-ordination of the programme should be clarified, and time for co-ordination of the programme should be factored into timetabling. It would be of benefit to expand the team involved in the organisation of the programme.
∑ It is recommended that a full review of the programme, including uptake and retention of students, timetabling arrangements and possibilities for increased whole-staff consultation, be carried out.
∑ It is recommended that development of the LCVP plan should expand the curricular content and schemes of work for each year group.
∑ The school is strongly urged to re-engage in the process of collaborative whole-school development planning.
Published, April 2010