An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Transition Year Programme Evaluation
Abbey Community College
Wicklow, County Wicklow
Roll Number 70820K
Date of inspection: 7 and 8 November 2007
The Transition Year (TY) programme is a one year programme for students who have completed the Junior Certificate. The TY provides a bridge to enable them to make the transition from the more dependant type of learning associated with the Junior Certificate to the more independent learning environment of the senior cycle. The programme promotes the personal, social, vocational and educational development of students and prepares them for their role as autonomous, participative and responsible members of society. Transition Year fosters academic achievement as students prepare for a Leaving Certificate programme, further study and adult and working life. It encourages the development of a wide range of transferable critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
This report has been written following an evaluation of the TY in Abbey Community College, Wicklow. It presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the programme in the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held meetings with the school principal, the co-ordinator, a core group of teachers and with a small group of students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspectors liaised extensively with the programme coordinator and visited classrooms to observe teaching and learning. The inspectors provided oral feedback to teachers on lessons observed. The inspectors 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, deputy principal, the programme coordinator and members of the core team at the end of the evaluation period.
The TY programme was reintroduced into Abbey Community College in 2002. The school’s mission and aims as outlined in its TY plan are closely aligned with national guidelines, Transition Year Programmes, Guidelines for Schools. It is commendable that desirable components of the TY programme are present including core subjects, subject sampling, specific TY modules and calendar events.
1.1 Whole school support
The education provided by Abbey Community College for its students is enhanced by the inclusion of TY on its curriculum. School management, teachers and TY students expressed their satisfaction with the programme in the course of the evaluation. The curricular choices in relation to programmes are organised in such a way to facilitate the best career path for the individual student. Third year students choose between TY and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). Consequently, the TY programme is compulsory for those students at Abbey Community College who are not opting for LCA. On completion of TY, students are once again given the option to enter LCA, if appropriate for them at this stage of their schooling. This in-built flexibility is commendable.
A whole school approach to the delivery and the implementation of TY is fostered in the school. Staff are well deployed across the programme, with 12/13 teachers involved directly in delivering the programme to each TY class group. This is commended. Staff skills have been utilised to provide some very good modules that add variety and innovation to the programme. However, it is recommended that the school explores further modular development within TY in the interests of providing a more diverse programme.
The school has a four member core-team for TY consisting of TY class teachers, the TY coordinator and the school development planning (SDP) coordinator. While the core-team has had regular minuted meetings in previous years, this is not currently the case. Therefore, it is recommended that regular core-team meetings be scheduled and that consideration be given to having a school management presence on the core-team. This would assist the ongoing planning and evaluation of the programme.
The staff has availed of a Second Level Support Service (SLSS) in-service day in relation to TY planning, provision and evaluation. This is highly commended and has strengthened and enhanced the whole-staff approach to TY. The TY coordinator has participated in many TY in-service courses including TY induction and coordination courses and some specific courses on adopting modules into TY. In addition, the guidance service has participated in in-service on the ‘Be Real Game’, which now forms part of the guidance programme in TY. The school’s commitment and support for ongoing in-service in relation to TY is commended.
Folders of students’ work available in the course of the evaluation provided considerable evidence of the wide range of activities and events in which TY students are encouraged to participate. The celebration of TY successes and achievements by the school and the whole school community shows true affirmation of students and is highly commended.
All school staff, including school management, TY year head and teachers, support TY students very well and close attention is paid to the social and personal needs together with the academic needs of students. Parents, staff and senior management are kept well informed regarding TY plans, events and activities. The school’s daily newsletter informs staff of upcoming TY events. Noteworthy events, such as prize giving are highlighted in the local press and TY activities are featured on the school website. Senior management is well informed regarding the provision and the implementation of the programme.
The school budget allocation to TY and the TY capitation grant are well managed, organised and utilised. TY students are required to pay a contribution towards expenses incurred in a number of activities, including the European Computer Driving License (ECDL). In addition, the TY budget is used for trips associated with the programme, materials required for subjects and for the preparation of the TY school journal and folder. TY resources, stored in the TY office and the staff room, are readily available and are widely utilised by TY teachers. It is recommended that an inventory of TY resource material be drawn up and circulated to teachers. This list should be updated regularly and included in the TY plan.
The school’s specialist rooms are used extensively for TY lessons. Teachers have created a stimulating and positive learning environment in subject-relevant rooms. The computer room has good facilities and TY classes have timetabled access to this room for four lesson periods each week. Use is made of some other computers in specialist rooms. Laptop computers are used by some teachers in mainstream lessons and to provide good language support to students with English as an additional language (EAL). Nevertheless, there is scope for further integration of information and communications technology (ICT) into teaching and learning and it is recommended that this be pursued.
1.3 Student selection
Currently there are two TY class groups. Third year students and parents are given information and guidance regarding senior cycle provision in the school in March/April each year. There is considerable input by senior management, the guidance service and the TY coordinator into such briefing sessions. Former TY students may also be requested to give a presentation on their experiences. It is recommended that senior cycle options currently available, including TY, are documented more explicitly in the school’s admissions policy.
TY students reported that participating in TY at Abbey Community College provided them with many opportunities including the opportunity to use ICT to complete the ECDL, to participate in a range of interesting TY activities and to sample Leaving Certificate subjects. They stated that they particularly found the voluntary activities fulfilling and looked forward to work experience later in the term. They saw TY as building on their confidence and maturity.
1.4 Home, school and community links
As well as attendance at the information evening mentioned above, TY parents and students attend an annual parent teacher meeting, where student progress is discussed. Parents are issued with two reports per year; at Christmas and summer. Parents of TY students are invited to a school awards’ night in May. This major event celebrates student achievement and is attended by teachers, students, the board of management, parents association, and invited guests from the community and from school business links. The celebration of achievement and the raising of public awareness of achievement is highly commended and in line with the philosophy of TY.
As a result of a whole-staff evaluation of TY, work experience has now been organised to take place on a block release basis on three individual weeks throughout the year. In previous years, work experience took place on one day of each week. This change is commendable as it will provide students with a sense of continuity that reflects more fully the real life workplace. Students are required to research and find their own work placements; however, those unable to do so are well supported in finding an employer by the TY coordinator. Students may be visited in the workplace and employers are requested to complete a student evaluation and attendance record. This assessment report plays an important part in overall student assessment. Students are required to complete a self-assessment form. This is commendable. Students are well prepared in advance of taking up their work placement, as one class period is dedicated to information on work experience and students are provided with a work experience information pack produced by the guidance service.
Through work experience and many other TY activities strong links have been successfully forged with the local and wider community. Many organisations and businesses support the school in their activities.
1.5 Supports for students
Students are well supported in developing key skills through the content of the TY programme in the school. Students’ research and practical skills are developed through modules such as BT Young Scientists project and Formula One Engineering. Students’ social skills are promoted through many activities including the peer education programme, voluntary activities and through work experience. The emphasis on the skills’ development of students is highly commended.
There is an appropriate emphasis on Guidance in TY with this subject forming a timetabled half-yearly module. The aim of this course is to introduce students to a wide range of occupations and to develop their career management skills. Through this programme, students can explore the realities of adult life in a safe supportive environment. All levels of ability are facilitated and multiple intelligences are recognised. Students visit various events, an example of which was their recent visit to the Fáilte Ireland Roadshow. Guest speakers are invited into the school. Self-evaluation is an in-built component of the programme. This is commended.
Students with special needs are well supported in the school’s TY programme. Students with exemptions from Irish are catered for in small class groups, where individual and group support is given in literacy, curriculum and project work. Mathematics, Irish and English classes are streamed, while subject modules are mixed-ability, with small groups formed for particular subjects which are offered in three-way option blocks. There are currently three TY students with a first language other than English and they are well supported by the school within the TY programme provision with extra language support classes.
Coordination of TY is one of the responsibilities assigned to the Coordinator of Coordinators post in the school with a time allowance of six hours available. The TY coordinator also acts as year head for the TY year group, liaising with the TY teachers. The agreed duties assigned in relation to TY were being carried out very effectively as observed during the course of the evaluation.
A whole staff approach to TY is promoted by the coordinator. Good communication procedures with staff have been established. Ongoing whole-staff evaluation of TY is encouraged and modifications to the programme have resulted from staff feedback. A TY whole staff meeting takes place at the start of the year and many informal meetings take place between relevant staff throughout the year. While acknowledging that an office with a computer and printer and that access to further facilities has been provided for TY coordination, it is recommended that school management gives consideration to upgrading some coordination facilities as the budget allows.
Good communication channels have been established with parents and with outside agencies. Students are kept well informed directly and through liaison with TY class teachers. As mentioned in an earlier section of this report, stronger links could be established with senior management and it is recommended that the school puts in place further measures to strengthen this link.
A core team was established following the whole school evaluation report which was issued to the school in 2006. Decisions were taken to restructure work experience, to agree a new programme of assessment and evaluation, to recommend a calendar of events for the 2007/2008 year and to investigate possible new modules for TY. Considerable success has been achieved to date and for this the school is highly commended.
As already indicated, communication and collaboration between senior management, the TY coordinator and the core team are fundamental in planning the TY programme in the school. The contribution of individual teachers and subject departments is also crucial to the overall planning process. The current TY written plan is the outcome of this collaborative work and includes details on the mission, aims, curricular details, including subject and module plans, support for students, organisation of class groups, work experience and assessment. Many additional TY organisational documents have also been drawn up. The achievements in planning in recent years are acknowledged and commended. However, it is recommended that the existing planning documents, including those on assessment, evaluation, organisational details and work experience, be included in one overarching TY plan. It is also recommended that the mission and aims be customised to the school. It is suggested that reference is made to Department guidelines prior to undertaking suggested improvements. The website for the SLSS is also a valuable source of information, (www.slss.ie).
It is commendable that a common template has been used in drawing up subject plans and plans for modules. However, some subject plans are in need of review to bring them fully in line with Department guidelines. It is important that Leaving Certificate material does not form the major part of any subject. When this material is included, it should be taught in an innovative way in line with Transition Year Programmes, Guidelines for Schools. The content and approach to some subjects should be modified to make them more innovative and in line with TY requirements. Circular M1/00 should be referenced in this regard. Where an essential component, such as evaluation criteria, has not been addressed in the relevant plan, this should be drafted for inclusion by the relevant subject department. It is furthermore recommended that future improvements to existing plans or the creation of new modular or subject plans should be drawn up collaboratively by subject departments.
Following the whole school evaluation mentioned above conducted in October 2005, the school set about reviewing the TY curriculum. The main curricular changes implemented were: a review of the Mathematics and Engineering programmes; introduction of some new modules; new timetabling procedures. It is commendable that the school has addressed these issues arising from the whole school evaluation report. Following a whole-staff evaluation in May 2007, further changes were made including the allocation of additional time to the core subjects of Irish, English and Mathematics.
All TY students take five core subjects for the entire year: Irish, English, Mathematics, ICT and Physical Education (PE). Students are also required to choose four additional subjects from option blocks at the beginning of TY. All of these subjects form the Leaving Certificate curriculum. While it is commendable that these subjects are sampled in TY, the selection of optional subjects at the beginning of TY is not good practice and is contradictory to TY Department guidelines and Circular M1/00. Subject choices should be made for the first time at the end of TY. Students can make an informed choice when they are exposed to various subjects during TY.
The school should consider a review of the time allocation to subjects and modules in the interests of curricular balance. Core subjects are each allocated four class periods per week, while each option block subject receives two class periods per week. Half-yearly modules in academic and practical subjects are offered to TY students. These include some innovative modules such as Garden Furniture, Tourism Awareness, ECO, Projects, HACCP and research modules including BT Young Scientists competition and Formula One Engineering. The expansion of TY to include these modules is commended. However, there is considerable scope for further expansion of the TY programme in this direction, depending on staff expertise, resources and time available.
A considerable number of calendar events have been included in the current TY programme. This is commended. However, many of these activities may impact on lesson time. Therefore it is recommended that consideration be given to creating a specific time for activities on the timetable.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
There was generally good advance planning and preparation for the lessons, modules and activities observed. Worksheets and handouts were distributed in some lessons and had been well prepared in advance. Audio Visual, ICT and practical equipment were also ready to use. This enhanced the impact and quality of teaching and student learning and is commended. There was generally good short term planning in that lessons were well structured and clear learning objectives were communicated at the beginning of lessons.
Teachers and subject departments had prepared a written plan for each subject and module evaluated. Many of these plans outline the aims, objectives, learning outcomes, teaching and learning strategies, content, assessment criteria, resources, links with other subjects and evaluation. It is important that these subject/module plans are kept current and up to date. Some plans need further input especially in the areas of links with other subjects and evaluation criteria. Therefore, it is recommended that subject departments meet to update these plans, as necessary.
In the case of languages, the four main language skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking should be integrated into the planning. A common approach to language learning and teaching could be fostered across the languages and the European Language Portfolio; www.coe.int/portfolio, which is a log of language learning, could form a framework for this. In addition the website, www.eolas.cogg.ie could be referenced to develop resources for the learning and teaching of Irish.
3.2 Teaching and learning
A variety of subjects were observed during the course of the inspection: Irish, Learning Support English, Projects, ECO, Guest Speaker, English, Guidance, IT, Physical Education and Mathematics.
A good atmosphere prevailed in all lessons observed. Students were generally addressed by name and their responses and work completed were frequently affirmed. This reinforced the student learning experience and is commended. In most lessons, students were enthusiastic about their work and there was a clear sense of enjoyment and motivation. Students were encouraged to participate fully in the majority of lessons evaluated. However, in some lessons, involvement and participation could be improved. Teachers are encouraged to actively pursue participation by all students in their lessons and it is recommended that appropriate strategies are devised to encourage active participation by students.
Teachers used a variety of resources in the lessons evaluated. The overhead projector and whiteboard were used particularly effectively to highlight key words and as an aid to present material being taught. Sometimes, the overhead transparency matched the handout and this reinforced learning and helped to focus students’ attention on key material. ICT was used very effectively in some lessons. For example, expert language support was provided to students with English as an additional language with the aid of a laptop computer and speech recognition software. This was effective and worked very well. However, there is scope for further development of the use of ICT in teaching and learning and it is recommended that this be pursued by subject departments and encouraged and supported by TY coordination and senior management.
Innovative teaching methods in line with Transition Year Programmes, Guidelines for Schools were in place in many lessons. Differentiated teaching methods were in evidence and this strategy particularly suited many lessons where there was a wide variation in the ability of the students. Teachers frequently consolidated student learning by circulating the classroom with support and help for individuals and groups. It is commendable that some changes in methodologies have been implemented following the whole school evaluation in 2005. Where this was not the case, it is recommended that teachers adopt an innovative approach to teaching TY students so that the TY experience is different to focused academic teaching in preparation for certificate examinations. More work needs to be done on the TY curriculum by some subject departments, in particular, core subjects need special attention, as reported in an earlier section.
Best practice was observed in those classes where teachers achieved a balance between teacher input and student activity. In one lesson, whole-class teaching was consolidated by individual activity where students were afforded the opportunity to engage with the material in an active and meaningful way through the use of a worksheet and a film clip. Exemplary use was made of brainstorming in group work in another lesson. Group size was appropriate, clear delineation of roles within groups was conducted at the outset and an appointed time for task completion was agreed. The work within the groups was effectively facilitated where assistance, guidance and intervention were provided, where necessary. There was a very good level of student learning and engagement evident in the debriefing session from the groups that followed. All contributions from the groups were recorded centrally by a student. It is recommended that such effective learner centred teaching strategies be extended to all subjects.
Handouts and worksheets consolidated learning and were used effectively in many lessons. For example, during a lesson on Guidance observed, students were discussing learning styles following a self-analysis exercise completed in their folder. This led to a discussion on the framework of qualifications with a relevant worksheet distributed to consolidate and focus student learning. During a lesson on Mathematics observed, students worked on ‘Sudoku’ and problems based on electricity charges with the aid of worksheets.
Pair work and group work were used by some teachers effectively and it is recommended that this practice be extended. At times, students needed extra support, therefore, it is recommended that material be covered and discussed in a whole group setting, perhaps with the aid of the overhead projector, before students are assigned the desired task.
Questioning was used effectively in many lessons. For example during an English lesson observed, students were reading and discussing the novel ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ by Mark Haddon. Having read an extract there were short interventions with stimulating questions directed at students. Students were interested and motivated. Further questions were distributed on a worksheet for class discussion and as an assignment. It is recommended that greater use be made of individual questioning in some lessons in an effort to involve all students in the lesson.
The different learning experiences and the innovative teaching methods observed contributed greatly to a successful TY and are in accordance with TY guidelines. Students were generally active in learning and the learning experience was varied. Many lessons were designed around very practical material which had strong links with students’ everyday life experience. Many of the skills presented were of practical benefit to students. For example, students prepared for the ECDL during an ICT lesson visited. They were assigned a task to prepare a PowerPoint presentation on the Gaelic Athletic Association. Students experienced a sense of achievement on successfully completing this assignment. During a Projects lesson, students learned about food hygiene and food contamination. The varied methodologies and resources used contributed to a successful outcome. The whiteboard, magnetic board and DVD were used seamlessly to get the lesson content across to students. Lively discussion ensued with many questions from students which were dealt with very effectively.
Where students were set challenging activities and encouraged to set and meet targets, for example in a PE lesson observed, and where the methodologies were varied, student interest and motivation were high. It is commendable that the school has made good efforts in ensuring that, in as far as possible, all students are continuously encouraged to take part in PE. A good example of TY students leading a whole school project is recycling. Recycling of materials has improved as a result of its promotion by TY students studying the ECO module, and the school is encouraged to further focus on Green Flag acquisition as part of this important project work. Students worked enthusiastically on their research and projects during the Garden Furniture module. The inclusion of this useful life skill on the TY programme is commended.
The school has organised a volunteering programme in collaboration with the County Wicklow Volunteer Centre. This comprehensive and commendable programme is ongoing with a wide range of activities scheduled for Wednesday afternoons. Having completed activities at the Sharpshill Animal Sanctuary, the lesson visited was focused on introducing the work of Amnesty International to students. Guest speakers led the input to students after which group work was organised. It is recommended that consideration be given to organizing such activities with each TY group separately so that small, better supervised groups can be formed and so that more effective input from students can be gathered. In addition, the school should consider timetabling such continuous activities so that they do not impact on other modules or subjects on the timetable.
Students in need of learning support are well catered for in Abbey Community College. Students are supported with projects and portfolio work. Language support is good with students being assigned various and relevant tasks and individual support being given, when needed. There is an appropriate emphasis on reading, pronunciation and vocabulary with the aid of ICT.
Many lessons in the TY plan focus on students’ social and personal development. This fulfils a key aspect of the TY aims and learning outcomes and is in line with TY guidelines. Students reported that their own personal development and maturity is a key focus of the TY programme. This is highly commended.
Student assessment in TY is based on a well thought out marking scheme. Credits are given for each subject and module with marks being taken off for poor attendance or punctuality. Work experience assessment is based on attendance and the employer’s report. Portfolio assessment criteria include commitment and participation in TY together with involvement in extra curricular activities. On completion of TY, certificates are awarded with pass, merit or distinction to each successful candidate. The twice-yearly reports to parents record student credits and also include a comment on each subject. This is commended. External examinations and certification are provided for some modules and activities. These certificates include; ECDL, HACCP, First Aid, and Tourism Awareness.
Students maintain a ‘folder of excellence’ in which they are encouraged to keep samples of their best work over the year. It is recommended that project work included in the folder of excellence should be differentiated across the ability continuum of students. In addition, student achievement is logged in this folder together with commitments from outside the classroom including community work, school representation on, for example, debating teams and sports teams, and participation and achievement in competitions. End of year portfolio assessment is by means of student presentation and interview. This is commended. It is recommended that portfolios are monitored regularly and that students are encouraged to submit an electronic portfolio in addition to their ‘folder of excellence’. This would encourage further use of ICT and allow students to easily and industriously record photos of events, digital recordings, DVDs etc. as evidence of their participation in TY. In addition, self-assessment should be promoted by means of a student logbook, where students record their weekly reflections on the work they have completed and activities they have undertaken.
The annual TY parent-teacher meeting affords parents the opportunity to discuss student achievement with teachers. Parents support TY events and attend the awards night where student achievement is celebrated by the entire school community.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
Evaluation has played an increasingly important role in TY at Abbey Community College over recent years. Currently the programme is evaluated by means of a student and a teacher questionnaire. This is very good practice and is commended. The evaluation of May 2007 surveyed students on the most or least enjoyable part of TY, the most beneficial part, and suggestions for improvement. Students placed a great emphasis on involvement and participation. Staff, in their evaluation, identified strengths in TY modules, problems that occurred and suggested improvements for the current year. Difficulties identified included; student absences from individual subjects or modules due to student attendance at non-timetabled activities, students not coming prepared for class and insufficient time for certain subjects. Some suggestions for improvement included; designated days for excursions, strict TY agenda for 2007/2008, further assessment, more use of some resources and ensuring improved student attendance. Some input is invited from parents. This should be further encouraged.
Teachers with ideas for new modules are encouraged to come forward with suggestions to school management. This is commended. Subject departments update their TY programmes annually. However, only some have built in evaluation procedures and it is recommended that all departments develop such strategies.
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
TY students reported that TY had a positive impact on their attitudes to school, work and learning. The view was also articulated that participation in TY improves student teacher relationships and frequently brings education out of the classroom. Students reported particularly enjoying involvement in activities and trips and emphasised their enjoyment in using computers. Students receive a modern language option and all choose between German and Spanish for the entire year. Teachers reported that now that there is more flexibility built into the programme, students are better motivated and more staff are involved in teaching TY subjects and modules. The well established links with the UCD New Era programme were identified as one of the major strengths in TY. Retention in TY is reported to be good.
TY has impacted on the life of the school in many ways. Links have been fostered with schools in Northern Ireland and Europe and students can now act as better mentors having followed the Peer Education programme.
School management reported that the principal benefits of TY in Abbey Community College include; development of student maturity, confidence and relationship building, improved academic performance, more informed subject choice and greater involvement in school and the wider community. The main difficulties reported by management include; some student attitudes and lack of motivation, a negative image of TY on the part of some parents and some members of the community, and communication with outside agencies.
The TY programme at Abbey Community College fulfils many of the programme objectives. The programme is evolving and contributes positively to the life of the school. The main aims of social awareness and increased social competence are fulfilled through many subjects and modules and student involvement in work experience and voluntary work. Technical and academic skills are promoted through the core subjects and the practical subjects. The TY curriculum contains aspects of the main educational provision of Abbey Community College, and it is a curriculum which is developing and which can further meet school needs while remaining in line with TY programme guidelines.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
Published June 2008