An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme
Collinstown Park Community College
Neilstown Road, Clondalkin, Dublin 22
Roll Number: 70041J
Date of inspection: 23 & 24 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is an intervention designed to enhance the vocational dimension of the Leaving Certificate (established) (LCE). The LCVP combines the academic strengths of the LCE with a dynamic focus on self-directed learning, innovation and enterprise. The primary goal of the LCVP is to prepare young people for adult life by ensuring that they are educated in the broadest sense, with an ability to cope and thrive in an environment of rapid change. Students are encouraged to develop skills and competencies fundamental to both academic and vocational success. 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.
This report has been written following an evaluation of the LCVP in Collinstown Park Community College. 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, a core group of teachers and with a small group of students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector liaised extensively with the programme coordinator and visited classrooms to observe teaching and learning. The inspector provided oral feedback to teachers on lessons observed. The inspector also examined students’ work and reviewed relevant documentation pertaining to the programme, as well as teachers’ written preparation. The outcomes of the evaluation were discussed with the school principal, the deputy principal, the programme coordinator and members of the teaching team at the end of the evaluation period.
Collinstown Park Community College was established in 1984. The mission statement of the school states, “In Collinstown Park Community College, we will endeavour to create a stable and affirming environment in which our pupils may improve their life chances. We recognize that through commitment to purpose and self esteem, the school and its students can help to enrich not only the school environment but also that of the home and wider community”.
The programmes available at junior cycle are the Junior Certificate Programme and the Junior Certificate Schools Programme. At senior cycle, the programmes offered are the Transition Year (TY) programme, the LCE, the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme and the LCVP. Collinstown Park Community College is also a participant in the School Completion Programme. In addition to second level and post Leaving Certificate (PLC) programmes, the college offers additional courses and programmes for adults.
The area in which Collinstown Park Community College is located has been recognized as an area of social and economic disadvantage by successive governments. The school was given disadvantaged status by the Department of Education and Science in 1991 and as a result is in receipt of funding and other supports to assist students in attending and benefiting from their time spent in school. Collinstown Park Community College has also been included in the current DEIS programme.
1.1 Whole school support
The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) has been very popular in Collinstown Park Community College and currently a majority of students studying for their Leaving Certificate are following the LCVP. Students of the programme do not have a separate identity, but are part of normal Leaving Certificate classes. They come together as a distinct group only for Link Module lessons. Link Module classes are allocated one double period each week in both fifth year and sixth year. This is slightly below syllabus guidelines.
A coordinator and three Link Module teachers, all of whom are business teachers, along with a French teacher, have responsibility for implementing the LCVP. A Guidance counsellor also contributes but does not generally take Link Module classes, instead meeting students individually at relevant times of the school year to help with CAO preparation and to advise on work experience placements. The French teacher teaches the modern European language module to students who are not taking a language for the Leaving Certificate. The good practice of other teachers assisting occasionally with specific inputs, for example helping students with aspects of their portfolios, interviewing students and helping with career investigations, is also evident.
One of the Link Module teachers has been in place for a number of years, a second is teaching the programme for the third year and one teacher is doing so for the first time. The good practice of maintaining the same team for a number of years is implemented in order to maximize development of teacher skills and expertise. Changes are limited to one per year, if possible, and those teachers already in place carry out the induction of new teachers. While management is very supportive of in-service, there has not been any recent training for LCVP teachers. It is recommended that specific and up-to-date in-service training be sought for all three teachers and for the coordinator. The LCVP Support Service may be contacted at Navan Education Centre, Athlumney, Navan, Co. Meath. The LCVP website contains relevant resources and is to be found at www.slss.ie by following the LCVP links. Information on current in-service provision and resources from past in-service meetings is available along with copies of the LCVP journal which also contains much information.
There is a good awareness of programmes in the school and the former LCVP coordinator did much to highlight the LCVP specifically. The LCVP is seen as business oriented and there is no cross-curricular input, either from the VSG (Vocational Study Group) teachers or from other curricular areas. It is recommended that the profile of the LCVP be raised among staff in general, and VSG teachers in particular, with a view to achieving the cross-curricular aims of the programme. The two Link Modules “are designed to be combined flexibly with each other and should be implemented in close integration with the vocational grouping being followed by the student” (LCVP syllabus document, page 36).
Two IT rooms are used to accommodate Link Module classes. This has the advantage of allowing students to use computer facilities and the internet as required. Two extra hours of typing time are made available to LCVP students during the in-house Christmas and summer examinations. The school has its own minibus so transport for visits out is generally not an issue.
As all the current Link Module teachers are teachers of Business Studies, it is at business department meetings that LCVP issues are discussed. LCVP resources, for example, student records, classroom and other resources, in-service material, examiners reports and marking schemes, are held and used by the Link Module teachers. This is good practice.
There is a specific budget allocated for LCVP activities. The coordinator requests funds on a needs basis for spending beyond this budget and is satisfied that all requirements are speedily met. Extra teaching hours accruing from the programme are deployed so as to benefit senior cycle students, especially in the VSG subjects. This has the effect of reducing class size and keeping subjects on the curriculum that may otherwise have been lost, thereby benefiting all the school generally and senior students in particular.
1.3 Student selection
The school requires students taking the LCE programme or the LCVP to have followed the TY programme. It is during this year that most students become aware of the LCVP. The advantages of the LCVP are highlighted to students and many of them deliberately choose subjects so as to ensure they qualify to follow the LCVP.
All students who satisfy the VSG requirements and who choose to follow the LCVP are admitted. Student numbers following the programme are uniformly strong at both fifth and sixth year level. The school also reports that the dropout rate from the programme is very small and all students entering the programme are encouraged to complete the programme and sit the examination.
1.4 Home, school and community links
A meeting of the parents of TY students is held every year at which the programme and subject choices open to their children are presented. Parents are made aware of the nature and purpose of the LCVP at this meeting. The Guidance counsellor is also available should parents wish to discuss issues around these choices.
Parent-teacher meetings are used in the usual manner to inform parents of their children’s progress. The student journal, that all students are required to have, is used on a daily basis for contact between individual teachers and parents. Additional contact with parents is as frequent and as detailed as circumstances dictate and the school operates an open-door policy with regard to parents wishing to make contact to discuss any aspect of their children’s education.
Christmas and summer reports are used to inform parents of students’ progress. The Link Module teachers enter a comment but no grade on these reports. A report is also issued following mock examinations for final year students. Parents may also be contacted by letter, on occasion, for specific LCVP-related purposes such as work experience arrangements.
Collinstown Park Community College has developed strong links with a number of outside agencies and industries. The school has a special relationship with Cement-Roadstone Holdings (CRH). CRH provides speakers for events within the school and also facilitates visits to its sites. This is a valuable resource as a wide range of employment opportunities may be explored, including the professions, office work and a number of trades. Irish Industrial Components, an electronic manufacturing company, and Coca-Cola have also been of great assistance in hosting students.
Links with community and voluntary agencies are also maintained. The local area development organization, Clondalkin Partnership, along with ACE, a community employment group, and the Tower Project, a drug rehabilitation service and probation service initiative, have all been very helpful in providing speakers, facilitating visits from students and taking on students for work experience.
1.5 Supports for students
Learning support is available to all students but is not given specifically to LCVP students, other than as a right, based on their needs and entitlements. There are qualifying students in the current LCVP programme. They would receive assistance in any case and do not get extra support on account of being LCVP students. The support given is not LCVP specific, but student specific.
The former coordinator managed the introduction of the LCVP into the school and set up the routines that are still used to run the programme. The present coordinator, who holds an assistant principal post, volunteered to carry out the LCVP coordination duties of the at the beginning of the current school year, at short notice. The former coordinator had received in-service training and briefed the new coordinator, who has not had specific training, in advance. The present coordinator has worked hard, however, to ensure the continued successful implementation of the programme. The LCVP coordinator is not timetabled to take any Link Module classes.
The time required for coordination varies with the level of activity taking place. More time is required when activities such as visits out or work experience are being managed but, otherwise, the routine is very well practiced and little in the way of specific time consuming inputs are required from the coordinator.
The LCVP coordinator liaises with the principal in making staffing and other arrangements for the Link Module classes. The need to provide double classes to allow time for project work, speakers, IT access and career guidance, is considered when timetabling the Link Modules.
The coordinator speaks to students about subject combinations and also to parents at parent-teacher meetings, but, otherwise, does not really have a lot of direct contact with parents or students. The coordinator liaises with outside agencies to organize speakers and other events. Staff are kept informed of LCVP events and issues by means of a notice board in the staff room.
Students organize their own work experience placements. The work experience is done outside of term time as LCA and TY students also have to be catered for. As they have already been on work experience twice during TY, this third opportunity allows LCVP students to focus more on the type of work they are interested in. The Guidance counsellor speaks to the students individually and the Link Module teachers provide further assistance in class. When making initial contact, students are provided with a letter from the school to indicate to prospective employers the official nature of the contact. Subsequently, a letter from the coordinator is used to thank employers who take on students and to give details of the insurance cover provided. Employers are also thanked verbally. This is good practice. During the work experience, a teacher does not visit the students as this has already happened on both occasions during the TY work experience. The school office, however, remains open in case a student or employer wishes to make contact. The school reports that no difficulties have been encountered. The employer submits a report on the student to the school following the work experience. The school considers it to be a major achievement on the part of students, and a sign of their innovation and growing level of responsibility, to make their own arrangements and to attend at work during their school break.
A written Link Module plan, for both fifth and sixth year, was presented to the inspector. This plan listed the portfolio items that are prepared during each year of the programme and also how the more theoretical aspects of the course are addressed. Issues such as homework, progress reports, assessment, resources and record keeping are also addressed in the plan.
Individual teachers also presented schemes of work, based on the LCVP plan, detailing how they address the curricular areas of the plan. In these schemes, the work to be done is broken down by the term and, in one case, details of student activities, assessment and homework, are given. This is excellent practice.
There are no regular specific formal meetings held by the LCVP team as it is felt that the routine in place is working very well. Some of the teachers may meet casually to discuss issues or solve problems, as required. No records of meetings are kept. It is recommended that time be set aside for LCVP specific team meetings in order to facilitate, for example, coordination, planning, sharing of good practice and to discuss curricular and examination matters.
Students qualify to follow the LCVP through a variety of VSG combinations. Construction Studies or Engineering or Technical Drawing (any two) and Accounting or Business or Economics (any two) are most common among boys while girls favour a wider range of combinations, including Home Economics and Biology, Accounting or Business or Economics (any two) and Home Economics and Business or Accounting or Economics.
All core portfolio items are addressed as part of the curriculum. Two optional items, a diary of work experience and a videotaped interview, are also addressed within class. The few students who wish to present an enterprise report or a report on “My own Place” are also facilitated if necessary. It is assumed in the LCVP plan that, in the preparation of the portfolio items, students also cover much of the theoretical content of the course. Time is also allowed in sixth year to cover any remaining theory and to prepare for the written examination. This is good practice.
Specific classroom input comes from the three Link Module teachers, who are also IT teachers, and the French teacher. VSG teachers are aware of the presence of LCVP students in their classes but may not know who they are. While they have stated their willingness to accommodate cross-curricular work, this would require careful coordination in order to maximize its benefit and avoid problems. Students carry out activities individually and there are few if any group or team projects. It is recommended that a means of introducing and establishing cross-curricular links, especially with the VSGs, be explored, as expressed in the LCVP syllabus document pages 56, 60, 61 and especially page 64. It is also recommended that students are involved to a greater extent in team and group activities as stated on pages 38 and 44 of the syllabus.
Most students are studying a modern European language to Leaving Certificate level and excellent arrangements have been made to cater for those students who are not. Currently in sixth year, a double period of French is provided each week. However, it is timetabled opposite PE with the result that fewer students chose to follow the LCVP. In fifth year, to overcome this problem, a double period is provided for French, three times per year, along with a double period each week for the final twelve weeks of the year. This just meets the requirement of one class period per year over two years or equivalent, when continued into sixth year. This is an innovative solution to the problem of the previous year and is to be praised.
A plan for the module in French was presented to the inspector. There is a focus, in this plan, on generating interest in France and French culture. Active methodologies are used, including project work and learning and practicing vocabulary for simple everyday situations. Other areas of study include French food, fashion, cinema and music. This is excellent practice.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
Section 2.2 of this report commented on long-term planning issues pertaining to LCVP Link Module lessons. In the lessons observed there was evidence of short term planning also. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter of every lesson and there was a theme running through each lesson. No specific lesson plans were presented, but all lessons visited were competently taught and were obviously prepared.
3.2 Teaching and learning
In all lessons visited, there was a disciplined atmosphere. Rapport with students was very good and this is to be commended. Teachers were enthusiastic, warm, patient and considerate of students. Their approach to their work was professional and business-like and a good learning environment was evident in all lessons observed. Good progress was made in all lessons. The level of two-way communication in classrooms was relevant to the task at hand.
Students were always attentive, interested and anxious to participate in the learning process. They demonstrated a positive attitude towards the Link Modules as evidenced by the level of engagement and interest observed. Students displayed a good level of knowledge, understanding and skills. The activities observed in the lessons visited included preparation for the case study, preparation for the recorded interview, carrying out research on computers and preparing portfolio items.
A range of methodologies was observed including student reading, use of questioning, discussions, student writing, use of the board, and use of IT facilities. Changes in methodologies were built into lessons as appropriate and individual student attention was provided as necessary. Students were challenged by lesson content and responded well. Continuity from previous lessons was good and new information was well linked to previous learning.
The effective use of questioning as a methodology was observed. Directing questions to individual named students for a response is a very useful means of encouraging all students to engage actively in a lesson and the inclusion of higher-order questions encourages students to think at a deeper level, to analyse information as well as simply trying to remember it. This is good practice.
Teacher movement among the students, assisting, examining and encouraging, was evident in all lessons observed. Teachers were very affirming of student effort and were always encouraging and positive in correcting students with appropriate interventions. This is praiseworthy. Homework given was appropriate to the lesson content. Most homework given in fifth year is research related while, in sixth year, it is based on theory.
Formative assessment of students is carried out on an ongoing basis by questioning in class, through correction of homework and portfolio work, and through the excellent level of teacher movement and observation of students during class that was noted by the inspector. The quality of portfolio items is assessed by teachers on an ongoing basis. When a draft of an item is presented, it is corrected and annotated with suggestions for improvement and returned to the student for follow up. This is repeated until a final agreed version is reached. There may be a number of drafts before a final one is accepted, but all are the students’ own work. In this manner, portfolio work is carried out under the supervision of teachers. This is good practice. Teachers have refused to certify students’ own work on occasion when they were uncertain of work not done not under their supervision. Hard copy of all completed portfolios is stored in the IT rooms.
Teachers use their own diaries to record corrections, the stages of portfolio work and to keep homework records in accordance with the school’s homework policy. Teachers hold records of coursework items being worked on and completed, and on attendance. Assessment records are held both by teachers and centrally in the school office and on computer. All student computer work is backed up on the central server and also kept on a memory stick, in addition to hard copy.
Sixth-year students sit a mock examination based on the written paper element of the Link Modules.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
There are no formal arrangements in place for the specific review and evaluation of the LCVP or of its implementation. There are no specific review or success criteria. An analysis of all Leaving Certificate results is carried out each year and, in the case of the LCVP, this is used as a barometer of the successful implementation of the programme, as is the number of students taking the programme and the very small dropout rate from the programme which has been reported. Teachers’ views regarding what is or is not working well are also considered. Feedback from parents, however, has been limited. It is recommended that a formal review of the programme and its implementation be carried out on an annual basis and specific procedures and success criteria be developed to facilitate this review.
It is felt that the VSG requirement artificially restricts the availability of the programme to students. The school feels the LCVP should be available to all students. The requirement to take a module in a modern European language is a major issue for students, especially as it is not examined. There is a need to consider a means to encourage and motivate students taking the module and it is suggested that the school examine the possibility of providing some form of certification.
At present, the future of the LCVP in the school appears secure. Both staff and students have expressed satisfaction with the programme.
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
Changes have taken place in the school as a result of the LCVP. The school has benefited by having improved links to the community and to industry. The school reports that it is now in a position to give students a wider variety of skills. The exercise of having to prepare a portfolio of coursework is, of itself, of major benefit to students. It is felt that the LCVP is an asset to the school and its students.
The programme is popular with students and while some students report that following the programme can result in more work, they feel that the benefits outweigh the difficulties. These benefits, according to students, include the possibility of increasing their CAO points, having improved access to IT, work experience, social skills, communication skills, presentation skills, interview skills, greater independence and a better knowledge of the world of work. Students also report that holding the written element of the examination in early May is good as it reduces pressure on students and allows them to concentrate on their other subjects.
Following discussion with management, teachers and students in Collinstown Park Community College, and following examination of all aspects of the programme and its implementation in the school, is can be said that most of the aims of the LCVP are being met, and some more than others.
The vocational potential of Leaving Certificate subjects is not being realized to the fullest extent possible as the school does not readily implement the cross-curricular aspect of the programme, as already stated. However, the other aims are being largely addressed by the manner of implementation of the programme and both students and teachers are very positive regarding the programme.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management of Collinstown Park Community College is extremely pleased to welcome this very positive evaluation. We are delighted to see that the very professional approach taken by our teachers in preparing and planning their classes, in their sensitivity to the students, in their excellent classroom practices and in their implementation of homework policy has been recognized and highly commended. Also, many complimentary comments made in relation to students reflects both well on them and their families. The very positive rapport between students and staff here has been a major strength of the college for years.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
All educational provision in the college is continually evaluated and the recommendations in this report are appropriate and helpful. What one international expert has called “context based learning” a process whereby colleagues share with each other their classroom experiences and explore different methodologies is the most powerful form of professional inservice. We are fortunate to have aange of expertise available to us and are appreciative of the willingness with which this is shared by members of staff. At the same time, we will continue to avail of appropriate external inservice training as the opportunities arise, provided of course that it is of sufficient quality and teachers can be allowed attend without undue disruption to the ongoing work of the school.
To implement the other recommendations requires planning and meeting time. While the Board is aware that staff are generous giving up their own free time, it is not unreasonable that the college would make provision where it is necessary to bring numbers of staff together to discuss educational matters over a period of time. Unfortunately, the Department’s decision four years ago (Circular Letter M34/03) to reduce the amount of planning and meeting time available in Colleges such as this by 50% as compared to that which had been available previously has made the situation more difficult, particularly in the context where schools have been asked to take on more and more issues that require such provision. The Board at that time highlighted the problems that were likely to ensure in a school such as this which has a wide range of programmes on offer and unfortunately experience has borne these views out. However the Principal will endeavour to see how these recommendations can be implemented, and to what degree, without, if possible, impinging negatively on other aspects of the schools provision. If the suggestion made by staff that the artifical restrictions on Leaving Certificate pupils taking part in the Vocational Programme were removed, it would of course be helpful in this endeavour.
Finally, the members of the Board have been advised by the Principal that this evaluation was carried out by the inspector involved in a very professional and sensitive manner and is happy to endorse that comment.