An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Transition Year Programme Evaluation
St Maryís College
Rathmines, Dublin 6
Roll Number 60560E
Date of inspection: 7 and 8 May 2009
This report has been written following an evaluation of the Transition Year (TY) programme in St Maryís College, Rathmines, 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 inspector held meetings with the school principal, deputy principal and the co-ordinator, 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 studentsí work and reviewed relevant documentation pertaining to the programme, as well as teachersí written preparation. The outcomes of the evaluation were discussed with the school principal, deputy principal and the programme coordinator at the end of the evaluation period.
St Maryís College introduced TY to its programme provision in 1989. The college offers a six-year cycle in which participation in TY is compulsory, as outlined in the collegeís admissionís policy. There are currently three class groups following the programme. Aspects of the collegeís mission statement are fulfilled through the TY programme, such as student participation in the community care module and in fundraising events for charity.† 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.
1.1 Whole school support
Senior management fosters a whole-school approach to TY and provides direction in the development and implementation of TY in the college. There is a whole-school approach to promoting and implementing the programme. The college annual highlights significant aspects of the TY programme through photographs and articles. It also celebrates student success by acknowledging TY prize winners.† The planned development of the college website will also support TY and promote its aims to the wider community. The school staff is kept well informed regarding the TY programme through formal meetings of TY teachers and through the TY notice board in the staffroom.
Student achievement is celebrated by the whole school community at the TY prize-giving night. This is very good. A specially prepared programme outlining the various elements of TY is made available to parents and guests. This important event includes a formal presentation of TY certificates and affords the school with the opportunity to present highlights of the programme. In addition, students are afforded the opportunity to showcase many aspects of their yearís work.
Staff is appropriately assigned to teach the programme and teachersí skills and qualities are well utilised. A large proportion of the staff is involved in the delivery of TY. Various elements of the programme are appropriately timetabled, for example the timetabling of the activities for Thursday and Friday afternoons helps to ensure continuity for other modules and subjects as these can continue without interruption. However, consideration should be given to the development of specific TY modules within the timetable and the time allocation to some curricular areas should be reviewed in light of this development. Staff development is critically important to any successful TY programme. Therefore, it is recommended that coordination and whole staff continuing professional development (CPD) be pursued. One area worth consideration is inservice support on writing the TY programme where Department of Education and Science guidelines are reviewed.
Information and communication technology (ICT) is utilised effectively in implementing the programme. However, ICT should be further utilised by subject departments in drawing up their TY plans. In this way each plan can be easily updated following annual review.
On enrolment to the programme, parents agree to the payment of a contribution to cover expenses for most activities. Some optional courses are offered to students after school which may incur an additional contribution.
1.3 Student selection and support
Parents are invited to a TY programme information evening and provided with an outline of the programme. It is recommended that a presentation is made to parents regarding the aims of TY as stated in the Department of Education and Science guidelines during the information night in September. Students are also given information on the TY programme and the expectation that students will take greater responsibility for their own learning and decision making is clearly articulated. However, there is no TY induction event, at the outset of the year, which would further promote these aims and would further focus all TY class groups on the benefits of the Transition Year experience. Therefore, it is recommended that consideration be given to scheduling a TY student induction event in future years.
TY students are provided with timetabled guidance provision. The guidance provided to students is appropriate to their needs. A very comprehensive guidance plan has been developed and TY students receive a copy of the collegeís careers programme booklet. The guidance plan for TY has the aim of assisting students in choosing appropriate subjects for senior cycle and informing them of the benefits and significance of continuing education. Students partake in aptitude tests, are supported in their subject choices and career options including third-level courses and evaluate their work experience and voluntary work in the community. During a guidance lesson visited, students were required to fill out a questionnaire regarding various areas of work and how they matched their own aptitudes, interests and personal characteristics. Students were asked to evaluate their experiences in guidance throughout TY and to fill in a worksheet on their individual experience. This is very good practice.
Students with additional needs are well supported. Good practice is informed by school assessments, recommendations from psychological reports and information from parents and subject teachers.
1.4 Home-school links
The TY coordinator and TY year head maintain close links with parents throughout the year. Parents are invited to significant events throughout the year, including the TY graduation night. Parents also support TY in the college in many ways, helping with work experience placements and with extra-curricular activities. During the TY parent-teacher meeting, parents receive useful information on their sonís progress and teachers receive useful evaluative feedback on the studentís TY experiences. To strengthen this process, it is recommended that consideration be given to having the student present at this meeting.
The college has a good level of planning in place. The small TY core team consists of the TY coordinator, the TY year head, the TY work experience coordinator and the TY community care coordinator. Members of the core team meet informally to plan and implement the programme. The TY coordinator meets with the TY year head on an ongoing basis to look after the needs of students and to monitor programme implementation. It is recommended that the skills and expertise of the entire TY core team be formally channelled into planning, implementing and evaluating the programme. It is suggested that minuted core team meetings may help in maximising the advisory role of the core team.
The TY written plan comprises of an overview of the programme for the current year together with individual subject and module plans. This plan is not in line with Department guidelines and individual subject plans examined are inconsistent in their adherence to the subject plan template for TY. The TY plan needs major development and review. Therefore, it is recommended that a whole-staff approach is adopted to writing the TY programme. In particular, each subject department should meet to review its TY planning and should develop an appropriate subject plan using the common template outlined in the guidelines. Areas in need of attention include cross curricular planning, inbuilt evaluation and modes of assessment. †The content of the TY Mathematics course, for example, should be re-evaluated to ensure that there is a suitable balance between core academic material and innovative TY material. Teachers should make reference to Circular M1/00 in this regard. The TY plan should be developed as a single cohesive and current document with all of the areas in the guidelines addressed including organisational details and self-evaluation measures. Reference should be made to the website of the Second Level Support Service for further assistance (www.slss.ie).† The college is encouraged to provide for the training of all staff in writing the TY programme.
The school outlined good self-evaluation measures for TY which include comments gathered from parents by means of questionnaires and students are also required to fill up a questionnaire on their overall TY experience. In addition, a formal meeting with students is scheduled at the end of TY to gather first hand information and feedback on the programme. This is good practice. Students indicated a good level of satisfaction with the schoolís TY programme in the course of the evaluation. Self-evaluation measures in place have had a positive effect on the delivery and implementation of the TY programme in the college. For example, Development Studies has been included in the programme to promote the college ethos. Following review Home Economics was replaced with Physical Education and Japanese was no longer offered.
TY coordination duties are documented and include the design and implementation of the TY programme. Specific duties detailed include curricular design, TY timetabling, organisation of activities outside the classroom and contributing to meetings pertaining to TY. These duties are carried out effectively by the coordinator with the support of the year head. The coordinator has regular class contact with TY students. Resources including ICT are used effectively in the coordination of the programme. Communication with parents, senior management, teaching staff, students and the whole school community is effective.
Efforts are made to provide students with a broad and varied curriculum and this was found to be the case in the course of the evaluation. Students are encouraged to build on their academic achievements and to prepare for senior cycle and their future role in society. Needs, interests and abilities of students are prioritised and active learning, group and team-work have been successfully integrated into the collegeís TY programme in some subjects. The support and encouragement given to students to participate in out-of-school activities and competitions has proven to be particularly effective.
Students can study a wide variety of subjects and modules. Some optional Leaving Certificate subjects are sampled, some of which are timetabled on a ten-week modular basis. Core subjects offer continuity from junior cycle and are allocated regular lesson periods throughout the week. The uniqueness of the one-year TY experience, in which the main emphasis is on confidence building and maturity, should underpin the TY curriculum and this was not the case in some subjects. For example, the rigidity in the organisation of some class groups for Mathematics should be reconsidered.
The timetabled provision on Thursday and Friday afternoons is particularly well structured. It is very praiseworthy that students partake in community care in local centres on Thursday afternoons for half of the year. In this way students are provided with opportunities to learn to be responsible and participative citizens and actively participate in their local community. This module plays a vital part in fulfilling key aims of TY, such as developing a sense of social awareness. Other students engage in religious education activities on Thursday afternoons whereby guest speakers may be invited to the college to address students on various issues including third world development work and faith development issues.
Activities outside the classroom are encouraged and supported by the college as these activities are seen as a vital element of the TY programme. Numerous confidence-building recreational activities are organised for Friday afternoons. These include Sailing, Wrestling, FAI Soccer Coaching and First Aid. These activities are well organised and contribute a great deal to a successful TY programme. Students also partake in many out-of-school activities including, An Gaisce, the Ghana Immersion Project, the BT Young Scientist Competition, Public Speaking, and the two-day trip to Killary Outdoor Adventure Centre. These activities promote important character development skills and promote TY aims in this regard. The extent and the organisation of these activities by the college are very effective. Students are awarded with certificates for many courses completed including the City and Guilds Computer examination, First Aid courses and An Gaisce award. †Networking with other schools is a very praiseworthy activity in any TY programme with the sharing of resources, teacher expertise and student talent. This should be further pursued.
Work experience provides a vocational element to the programme and tasks undertaken in an adult working environment play an important part in the development of studentsí experiential learning. Students are well prepared for work experience with support from the work experience coordinator, the TY coordinator, the school guidance service and senior management. Information is provided to parents and students on work experience in September. In the current year, work experience is organised as a two-week block before Easter. Good communication mechanisms are in place. There is ongoing liaison between students and the work experience coordinator. It is praiseworthy that students are required to maintain a daily journal of their experience. Students are encouraged to find a career sample work placement. The college has established links with a large number of businesses through the past pupils union and through the careers office.
Some aspects of the TY curriculum as it is currently implemented require attention. Introducing a more innovative curriculum less governed by traditional subjects should be prioritised. Reviewing the time allocation to subjects and timetabling of activities outside the classroom in TY should ensure the completion of planned programmes with a maximum of students present.
3.1 Planning and preparation
A written yearly current plan was available for all subjects evaluated, however, subject planning needs review as mentioned earlier in this report. The taught programme reflects in the main, the schoolís plan for the programme. Lessons were well planned with individual lesson plans available for some subjects. There was effective planning for resources with handouts, materials and practical and ICT equipment ready in advance of lessons. The varied methodologies observed and the good level of advance planning for lessons led to effective student learning.
3.2 Learning and teaching
Lessons were well structured and classroom management was effective. There was a clear focus on skills development in many lessons and teachers in the main demonstrated an awareness of TY aims while delivering classroom lessons.† The pace of lessons was appropriate to studentsí abilities. In many lessons, teacher inputs were appropriately short, clear and concise. High expectations of teachers ensured that students were sufficiently challenged to maximise their potential. It is recommended that all teachers develop a good awareness of TY aims in advance of lesson delivery so that students are taught in accordance with Department guidelines.
The variation in methodologies ensured that studentsí interest and motivation were maintained and that opportunities for learning were maximised. The board was used to highlight key ideas in many lessons and the overhead projector was also used to good effect. In one lesson visited, key words were written up on the board in advance of playing a film. Students developed observation skills as they looked for appropriate examples of many areas including body language, sound effects and facial expressions. Participation levels were high as studentsí interest was maintained throughout. In another lesson visited, students learned about nuclear fusion, its benefits and its destructive power. Key concepts were linked to studentsí everyday experiences and links with the history of the development of fusion consolidated the learning experience for students. The expert use of a DVD, appropriately paused for classroom discussion, ensured that maximum benefit was derived from this methodology. ICT was used appropriately in some lessons and it is recommended that its use be extended and its benefits maximised across the curriculum. In one lesson visited, ICT was well utilised as a focus for learning and the internet was used to carry out relevant searches on the topic of the lesson. In this case, students were critically examining various shaped cartons, sketching appropriate diagrams and were developing useful skills in the process. Other methodologies worth consideration in some lessons are: the more extensive use of group work to improve participation, the more widespread use of worksheets to consolidate learning and the more extensive use of project work, incorporating a cross-curricular approach.
Good use was made of various questioning strategies in lessons visited. Individual questions elicited specific responses while higher-order questions encouraged students to hypothesise, to speculate and to explain their reasoning. Evidence was provided in the course of the evaluation to indicate that studentsí understanding of material was of a high quality. A good atmosphere prevailed in all lessons visited. Students, in the main, enjoyed the learning experience both within and outside the classroom. The structure of lessons helped to contribute to successful learning outcomes.† Students were motivated to learn and in many cases took responsibility for their own learning. Relationships in the classroom were very good and student learning was enhanced as a result.
Teachers delivered lessons with energy, enthusiasm and with expert knowledge of their subject. Concepts were explained with clarity. However, it is recommended that appropriate materials, ideas and methodologies be introduced into some subjects, in line with TY guidelines, to make them an innovative and unique experience for students. Leaving Certificate material, while not being excluded from TY courses, should not be the focus of what is taught. †
Parents receive meaningful feedback on student progress by means of school reports sent home following examinations at Christmas and summer. It is recommended that the TY reporting template be modified and adapted to reflect the participation and application of TY students. It is very praiseworthy that a student progress report is sent home each month. There is ongoing assessment through class work and project work. Employers assess studentsí work experience and return a report to the college. Self-assessment is encouraged and promoted in guidance lessons and students utilise this skill in their work experience logbooks. There is good emphasis on homework, assignments and project work in the TY programme with homework being assigned during some lessons evaluated. The quality of studentsí work in many of the history and physics projects examined in the course of the evaluation was very good.
To strengthen the assessment process and to introduce a balance to the examination process, it is recommended that students be required to maintain a portfolio and that a portfolio interview be introduced as part of studentsí overall end-of-year assessment. For example, students may be required to choose what they consider to be some of their best work for this interview and interview criteria and marking should be clearly set out. In addition, consideration should be given to students maintaining an electronic portfolio with, for example, photographs of activities undertaken during TY.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ There is a whole school approach to promoting and implementing the TY programme.
∑ Staff are appropriately assigned to teach the programme and teachersí skills are well utilised.
∑ The timetabled provision on Thursday and Friday afternoons is particularly well structured.
∑ Students are well prepared for work experience with support from the work experience coordinator, the TY coordinator, the school guidance service and senior management.
∑ The varied methodologies observed and the good level of advance planning for lessons led to effective student learning.
∑ A good atmosphere prevailed in all lessons visited. Relationships in the classroom were very good and student learning was enhanced as a result. Lessons were well structured and
classroom management was effective.
∑ There was a clear focus on skills development in many lessons. Teachers delivered lessons with energy, enthusiasm and with expert knowledge of their subject.
∑ Parents receive meaningful feedback on student progress and a progress report is sent home each month.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
∑ It is recommended that coordination CPD and whole staff CPD pertaining to TY be pursued.
∑ ICT should be further utilised by subject departments in drawing up their TY plans and it is recommended that its use be extended and its benefits maximised across the curriculum.
∑ The TY plan should be developed and reviewed in order to be in line with Department guidelines. A whole staff approach should be adopted to writing the TY programme and in particular
each subject department should develop an appropriate programme using the common template as outlined in the guidelines. †
∑ The content of the TY Mathematics course should be re-evaluated to ensure that there is a suitable balance between core academic material and innovative TY material.
∑ The rigidity in the organisation of some class groups should be reconsidered in light of the uniqueness of the one-year TY experience, in which the main emphasis is on confidence
building and maturity.
∑ It is recommended that a TY curriculum review takes place.
∑ It is recommended that students be required to maintain a portfolio of their work and that portfolio assessment forms part of TY in future years.
Published March 2010