An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme
St. Joseph’s College
Lucan, County Dublin
Roll Number: 60263V
Date of inspection: 16 and 17 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is an intervention designed to enhance the vocational dimension of the Leaving Certificate (established). The LCVP combines the academic strengths of the Leaving Certificate (established) with a new and 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. Participants in the programme 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 on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response
This report has been written following an evaluation of the LCVP in St. Joseph’s College, Lucan, Co. Dublin. 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, with 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, the programme coordinator and members of the core teaching team following the evaluation.
St. Joseph’s College, Lucan, was originally opened in 1955 as a “secondary top" all-girls secondary school. The school became a full secondary school in 1966. A large new extension was officially opened in 2005, providing new classrooms, a number of specialist rooms, a canteen and a sports hall. There are currently approximately sixty teaching staff and five administrative staff and the school caters for over 800 students. The students come from Leixlip, Palmerstown and Celbridge as well as Lucan itself. The school offers a range of programmes, including the Junior Certificate programme, the Transition Year (TY) programme, the Leaving Certificate (established) and the LCVP.
1.1 Whole school support
The LCVP has been offered to students in St. Joseph’s since 1997. All incoming fifth-year students are invited to apply for LCVP, based on their subject choices and academic aspirations. 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. The number of students following the LCVP has recently increased significantly in both fifth year and sixth year. In the course of the evaluation, both staff and students demonstrated awareness and an appreciation of the value of participating in the programme in developing student’s learning and skills.
Link Module classes are allocated two double periods each week in fifth year and one double period in sixth year. This time allocation is slightly above syllabus guidelines. All students are taking a modern European language to Leaving Certificate level so there has not been a requirement to run a separate language module. School management is to be commended for their support for the programme, which was acknowledged and appreciated by the LCVP core team.
Responsibility for implementing the LCVP rests with a co-ordinator and a team of three Link Module teachers. A new co-ordinator has been in place since the beginning of the current school year. The size of the teaching team has increased recently in line with the increase in the number of students following the LCVP and there is, effectively, a new teaching team in place. Members of the team have experience as teachers of Business Studies and consequently have knowledge of enterprise education; and also in the area of CSPE, where active learning methodologies are a significant component. The impetus for change and review has been the increased demand and the consequent need for enhanced organisation and planning. The LCVP coordinator and teachers are to be commended for their team approach and their willingness to try new approaches and methodologies to effectively meet the needs of their student cohort.
Management has been very supportive of professional development and has facilitated teachers to attend relevant in-service. The school has recognized the excellent support provided by the LCVP support service and the quality and appropriateness of in-service provision.
The commendable practice of other teachers assisting with specific inputs is evident and cross-curricular work is an important aspect of the LCVP in St. Joseph’s. Examples of cross-curricular input include the following: the guidance department assists students in carrying out the career investigations module; the science department have had input in the area of health and safety in the workplace; and teachers of Business Studies, Economics and Accounting have helped with enterprise education and with keeping accounts for specific enterprise activities. This level of cross-curricular work is highly commended, as is the very definite awareness among teachers of the vocational subject groupings (VSGs) of the objectives of the programme.
Link Module classes are mostly held in classrooms. In addition, fifth-year students are timetabled for a double class each week in the information and communications technology (ICT) room. While there is not a specific budget allocated for LCVP activities, funding is generously provided by management on a needs basis, at the request of the co-ordinator and in consultation with the LCVP team. Students may be asked to contribute towards the cost of transport for visits out of the school.
Further evidence of the school’s commitment to the programme and appreciation on behalf of school management of the value and benefits of the programme to its diversity of students, is the reality of having its allocated teaching hours reduced slightly as a result of including the LCVP on the curriculum. Nevertheless, the school continues to offer the programme to it students.
1.3 Student selection
The school requires students entering the senior cycle to follow the Transition Year (TY) programme. It is during this year that most students become aware of the LCVP. The work in the area of careers and career investigation in the course of TY reinforces for students the links between subjects and the vocational links within the Vocational Subject Groupings. The advantages of the LCVP are highlighted to students and there is evidence that some deliberately choose their subjects so as to ensure they qualify to follow the LCVP.
A meeting of the parents of TY students is held every year at which information about the programme and subject choices available 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 with regard to programme and subject choices.
As already stated, all incoming fifth-year students are invited to apply for LCVP, based on their subject choices and academic aspirations. The school’s criteria for the selection of students to the programme are inclusive and student centred. There are many aspects to the programme which attract students for different reasons, and the school endeavours to accommodate this broad diversity of student needs and wishes. Some students see the LCVP as a back-up subject for additional CAO points: students who do not study Irish or newcomer students can take the Links Modules as an extra subject: some students particularly value the practical, vocational skills development dimension to the programme. All such applicants are accepted onto the programme. A small number of students intending to take Mathematics at higher level are unable to follow the LCVP because of the practical constraints imposed by concurrent timetabling. While acknowledging the workload involved in meeting deadlines in the completion of tasks and portfolio items, those students who chose LCVP were committed to programme objectives and completion.
1.4 Home, school and community links
Parents are fully briefed on senior cycle options for students and are involved in the process of subject and programme selection. Parent-teacher meetings are used in the usual manner to inform parents of students’ progress. Additional contact with parents is as frequent and as detailed as circumstances require, particularly in relation to the monitoring of student progress and the timely completion of portfolio items. The school operates an open-door policy for parents wishing to make contact to discuss any aspect of their children’s education. Parents are also contacted by letter, on occasion, for specific LCVP-related purposes such as work experience arrangements and visits out of the school.
St. Joseph’s College has developed excellent links with a number of outside community and voluntary enterprises and businesses. It was stated that it can sometimes be difficult to arrange visits to larger enterprises and, also, that such visits may have limited value, due to the nature of the business or the relatively large number of students present. On the other hand, small, local businesses are often of more immediate relevance and it can be easier to arrange visits by small groups of students, thus increasing the value of the exercise to students. The value of the support provided by local enterprises is acknowledged and the school has expressed its appreciation to these agencies and businesses.
A number of local businesses and employers are of great assistance to the school in providing both work experience placements for students and expert speakers for visits in. Such links are used to source speakers on enterprise-related topics, for case studies of local enterprise, to provide opportunities for visits out and for general support and information in relation to mini-companies, careers and enterprise in general. The LCVP team is highly commended for its efforts to make and sustain such a variety of quality links with the local community.
1.5 Supports for students
Learning support is available to all students in the school and is not given specifically to LCVP students, other than as a right, based on their needs and entitlements. There are students who qualify for this support in the current LCVP classes due to their needs. The support given is therefore not LCVP specific, but student specific.
A variety of interventions and supports are being provided currently, in line with the specific needs of the students concerned. Examples of these interventions include work sheets being specially prepared with vocabulary and language appropriate to the level of ability of students; a multi-sensorial approach with particular emphasis on students’ listening capacity; giving work in small steps; encouraging discussion; withdrawal for learning support; and the presence of classroom assistants for LCVP students with specific learning disabilities. Classes in English, as a second language, are provided as appropriate also.
The present co-ordinator was appointed at the beginning of the current school year. This role is not linked to a post of responsibility. While co-ordination of LCVP was assigned as a post in the past, recent reviews of posts in the school have identified more pressing needs for posts, particularly following the appointment of a co-ordinator of co-ordinators post. The LCVP co-ordinator has worked hard to ensure the continued successful implementation of the programme, in particular by fostering a very strong team approach to the implementation of the LCVP. This is a praiseworthy approach. In keeping with best practice, the LCVP co-ordinator is timetabled to teach Link Module classes.
The LCVP co-ordinator is allocated one class period per week for carrying out co-ordination duties. These duties include: promoting the programme with TY students and their parents, in conjunction with the guidance department; processing applications and structuring class groups; corresponding with parents; establishing and maintaining links with outside groups; convening and keeping records of team meetings; planning for the implementation of the LCVP; and collecting and filing resources. The time required for co-ordination varies with the level of activity taking place. More time is required when activities such as visits or work experience are being managed.
The LCVP co-ordinator 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, and IT access, is taken into account when timetabling the Link Modules.
In the first instance, students have responsibility for the organisation of their own work placements. The LCVP co-ordinator, with the assistance of the guidance counsellor, parents and the LCVP team, provide assistance and advice as necessary. Students are encouraged to seek work experience in the career area of their choice. This is the first year that full work experience has been carried out. In previous years, the focus was on work shadowing. Preparation of students for work experience is very thorough, and this is commendable. The inspection of lessons at the time of the evaluation provided an opportunity to observe at first hand the excellent preparatory work being undertaken in this area. Students carry out a career investigation and prepare a curriculum vitae (CV) in advance.
When making initial contact, students are provided with a letter from the school to indicate to prospective employers the official nature of the contact and to inform them of insurance arrangements. During the week of the work experience, members of the LCVP team either visit the workplaces or make contact by phone, to check on the progress of the students. Employers are requested to submit a report on the student they have employed, following the work experience, and students use this in their debriefing session afterwards. This is good practice. The school is also using the information gathered from this process to compile a register of work experience providers.
Formal meetings of the LCVP team are held approximately every six weeks. There is an agenda prepared for these meetings and minutes are kept. Informal meetings are held weekly, where on-going progress in monitored. This is commendable. Ideas in relation to good practice are also shared at these meetings. The team is presently preparing a presentation on the LCVP for a staff meeting, as the LCVP team were conscious that staff awareness of the programme needs to be raised. It is recommended that this opportunity be used to highlight the importance of cross-curricular links in the LCVP, and to facilitate the spread of good planning practices and active methodologies, observed in this evaluation, into other subject areas.
The LCVP coordinator maintains a folder that contains all relevant programme documentation. The following are examples of documents included in the folder: the school’s mission statement; an LCVP overview; timetables; a list of the vocational subject groupings (VSGs) of all students; a student induction pack; details of information sessions for parents of TY students; and a detailed plan for the implementation of the LCVP.
The plan for implementation of the LCVP is excellent in the type of information it provides and in the level of detail it contains. For each of a variety of activities to be carried out, the plan lists the time allocated to the activity; the specific learning outcomes on the syllabus that are being addressed; the core student activities involved; the methodologies to be used; and the modes of assessment to be used. Dates for the completion of all the items the students will prepare for their portfolios are also included in the plan. Details of the cross-curricular links, in named subject areas, that are used to enhance the learning experience for students are also included. In addition, information on the following is held in the planning folder: contact details of supportive community and voluntary agencies and business enterprises; copies of correspondence to parents, employers and the LCVP support service; employers reports; examination questions, marking schemes and chief examiners reports on the Link Module examinations; student and class assessment record forms; and records of LCVP team meetings.
The amount of work carried out by the co-ordinator and the LCVP team in compiling and maintaining this excellent folder is evidence of the hard work being done to implement the LCVP to the highest standard possible in St. Joseph’s College. The increase in the number of students following the programme is evidence of the success of this work. The members of the team are highly commended for their efforts.
Students qualify to follow the LCVP through a variety of VSG combinations. Combinations involving Business Studies, Biology, Art and Home Economics are the most common. All core portfolio items are addressed as part of the curriculum. Two optional items, a diary of work experience and an enterprise report, are also addressed within class. Completed portfolio items are stored in the school.
It is assumed in the LCVP plan that, in the preparation of the portfolio items, students 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 four Link Module teachers. There is a focus on practical skills and a hands-on approach is used. Teamwork skills are also an important part of the approach used. VSG teachers are aware of the presence of LCVP students in their classes. But, in line with programme objectives and approach, it is up to the individual LCVP student to identify links and to seek help from the relevant VSG teacher.
As already stated, all fifth-year students have a double class in the ICT room each week. This time is used to carry out research, for example when conducting a career investigation, or to work on the preparation of material for the students’ portfolios. Students are given specific work to do for these classes, in order to make maximum use of their time in the ICT room. There is close collaboration between the Link Module teacher and the ICT teacher, who is also part of the LCVP team, with regard to the work to be done by the students in order that the IT teacher can provide the most appropriate support. This is excellent practice. For one of the fifth-year classes, access to the ICT room was on the following day. However, students in the other class had to wait until the following week for ICT access. It is recommended that access to the ICT room should be arranged as soon as possible after the preparatory class to guarantee continuity of learning. It was noted that the level of ICT skill among students was very high due to their completion of the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) course during TY. As a result, the students were able to make maximum use of their time in the ICT room.
Students carry out a range of enterprise activities as part of their programme of study. Examples of such activities include the planning and running of a school disco; a bingo night; fundraising for charity; planning and managing visits of guest speakers to the classroom; and visiting local enterprises. As well as providing students with opportunities for teamwork and with hands-on experience, these activities provide the basis for preparing reports, diaries and other material for their personal portfolios. This good practice is very much in keeping with the ethos of the LCVP.
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 excellent short term planning also. Teachers were familiar with the subject matter of every lesson, there was a theme running through each lesson and the necessary resource material had been prepared in advance. All lessons visited were competently taught and were obviously well prepared.
3.2 Teaching and learning
In all lessons visited, there was a disciplined atmosphere leading to an effective learning environment. 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 excellent. Lesson content was in line with planning documents. The activities observed in the lessons visited included use of the internet to carry out research as part of a career investigation, development of job seeking skills and consideration of work placements.
Students were 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. Student behaviour was excellent at all times.
The teachers taught with enthusiasm and generated an atmosphere that was inclusive, caring and challenging. Lessons were well structured and there was clear evidence of differentiation in the manner in which lessons were conducted and all students were given an opportunity to achieve according to their abilities. Teacher movement among the students, assisting, examining and encouraging, was evident in all lessons observed and individual student attention was provided as necessary. The teachers had high expectations for their students and were very affirming of their efforts.
A variety of well-chosen active methodologies were observed in use. Both individual and group tasks were used at different stages of the lessons observed. There was a good balance between student-centred and teacher-led phases in these lessons. The methodologies observed included student reading, use of questioning, role-play, discussion, use of work sheets, and use of IT facilities. Students were challenged by lesson content and responded well. Continuity from previous lessons was excellent and new information was well linked to previous learning. In one lesson, the learning goals were clearly outlined at the start of the lessons and remained very much at the focus of all the subsequent activities. This commendable practice should be followed by all teachers.
Homework given was appropriate to the lesson content, and was designed to reinforce the lesson and to consolidate learning. It is recommended that this homework be integrated into the body of the lesson in order to increase its relevance to students and to link it to the lesson objectives as already stated. Work was also given to fifth-year students to be carried out in their next lesson in the ICT room.
Formative assessment of students is carried out on a continuous 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. When a draft of a portfolio item is presented, it is corrected and returned to the student for follow up. This process is repeated until a final agreed version is reached. There may be a number of drafts completed before a final version is accepted and a clear progression can be seen in the students’ own folders. In this manner, portfolio preparation is carried out under the direct supervision of teachers. All students have been provided with copies of the portfolio marking scheme to assist them in this work. This is excellent practice.
All students are provided with copies of the detailed content of the Link Modules, along with the portfolio marking schemes. This gives them an opportunity to monitor their own progress in relation to the aims, objectives and the specific learning outcomes of the programme, and it can encourage a degree of self-assessment by students within classes. This approach can be motivating and informing as well as giving a sense of purpose and direction to classroom work.
Assessment of students’ progress at Christmas and summer is by means of a written examination. Sixth-year students also sit a mock examination based on the written paper of the Link Modules examination. Progress reports are sent to students’ homes at Halloween, and following Christmas and summer examinations for fifth-year students. Sixth-year students receive reports at Halloween and following Christmas and mock examinations.
The quality of record keeping by teachers was variable. Best practice was seen where records were kept, in the teacher’s own diary, of coursework items being worked on or completed, along with attendance records, homework records, syllabus material covered and assessment records. It is recommended that all teachers keep full records relating to student performance. The recorded information can be used to build up a profile of each student and can form the basis of very useful evidence in communicating students’ progress to parents.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
The implementation of the LCVP is continuously monitored in relation to the planning documents at the weekly informal team meetings. 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 who apply to follow the programme each year. It is recommended that an annual, formal review of the programme and its implementation be put in place, and that specific procedures and success criteria be developed to facilitate this review. The views of all relevant parties, including parents and students, should be sought and included in the review.
Both staff and students have expressed satisfaction with the programme. The guidance value of the LCVP, the extra ICT exposure and work experience have all been listed as effective aspects of the programme. In addition, the increased level of teacher cooperation due to the implementation of greater cross-curricular links has been noted as a positive feature of the programme for both teachers and students. At present, the future of the LCVP in the school appears secure.
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 with local business and community interests and an increased level of cross-curricular activity. 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.
Teachers have stated that students have gained from the LCVP through the increased level of individual attention that can be given to participants, and in raising their awareness of the world of work and the career options open to them. The manner in which different learning styles are addressed in the programme enhances the academic progress of many students. Teachers are also satisfied that students develop a range of skills directly as a result of participation in the programme, for example research, time-management and teamwork skills.
Experiences such as work experience, carrying out a career investigations and business and community enterprise visits, have helped the school build-up valuable links with outside agencies. In addition, the LCVP has been beneficial to students who required an extra subject for the Leaving Certificate.
The programme is popular with those students interviewed by the inspectors. While some students reported that following the programme can result in more work having to be completed, most feel that the benefits outweigh the difficulties. Most students say that following the programme will help them to do better in school, give them good research skills, help with career choices and give them an opportunity to gain more CAO points.
Following discussion with management, teachers and students in St. Joseph’s College, and following examination of all aspects of the programme and its implementation in the school, it can be said that the aims of the LCVP are being met in the manner in which the programme is being implemented and also in terms of the positive learning outcomes being achieved. The vocational potential of Leaving Certificate subjects is being realised, as the school is very conscious of the cross-curricular aspect of the programme. Other aims are also being largely addressed 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:
· It is recommended that the opportunity being given to the LCVP team to address the whole staff be used to highlight the importance of cross-curricular links in the LCVP, and to facilitate the spread of good planning practices and active methodologies into other subject areas.
· It is recommended that access to the IT room for fifth-year students be scheduled as soon as possible after the class where work was assigned.
· It is recommended that homework be integrated into the body of lessons in order to increase its relevance to students and to link it to the lesson objectives as already stated.
· It is recommended that an annual, formal review of the programme and its implementation be put in place and that specific procedures and success criteria be developed to facilitate this review. The views of all relevant parties, including parents and students, should be sought and included in the review.