An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme
Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School
Granard, Co. Longford
Roll Number: 63730S
Date of inspection: 23 and 27 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 8 November 2007
Evaluation of the leaving certificate vocational programme
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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing 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 LCVP in Cnoc Mhuire secondary school. 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, 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 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 programme coordinator and the Link Modules teacher at the end of the evaluation period.
Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School is one of two schools serving the town of Granard and its hinterland. The school building has undergone a number of significant structural expansions since its opening and currently, it is in the process of refurbishing an adjoining building to accommodate two new Construction Studies workshops. These expansions, in turn, facilitated an the development of the school’s curriculum and today the school offers a range of courses including the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year, the Leaving Certificate (established) and the LCVP. The LCVP was introduced in 1995 and since then has benefited from the services of a number of different coordinators.
1.1 Whole school support
School management displays a considerable level of interest in the LCVP. It was clear from discussions with management, for example, that they have a good knowledge of the programme and of relevant issues regarding its implementation. The programme coordinator and the Link Modules teaching staff have an equally high level of interest and knowledge of the programme. While the remainder of the teaching staff has an awareness of the LCVP, their familiarity with the programme is quite limited. This particularly manifests itself through the distinct lack of a cross-curricular integration between the different subjects in the programme. It is recommended that management and relevant staff endeavour to raise awareness of the programme among staff in general, and in particular, among the vocational subject grouping (VSG) teachers. Consideration, for example, should be given to discussing the programme at staff meetings and for the coordinator to initiate direct communications with individual staff members regarding the goals and cross-curricular dimension of the programme. Further, a staff notice board dedicated to the LCVP, or a section of a notice board, should be considered.
The morale among those directly involved in coordinating the programme and teaching the Link Modules was seen to be good. These teachers occasionally receive assistance from other staff members with regard to LCVP activities. The guidance staff were reported to have limited involvement in the programme, but do contribute when invited. It is felt that the general lack of awareness of the programme among staff prevents greater levels of input by teachers with regard to the implementation of the programme in the school.
Teachers attended relevant professional development courses at the time of the introduction of the LCVP into the school. Since then, however, there has been limited engagement with professional development courses. It is recommended that guidance be sought from the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) regarding the possible professional development needs of staff. The LCVP coordinator should be prioritised for engagement with such professional development. Consideration should be given to inviting a member of SLSS to address the whole staff on the programme. Teachers make good use of the LCVP website, as well as the newsletters and other materials that are distributed periodically by the SLSS.
The extra teaching hours accruing from the programme are used to facilitate the LCVP coordinator to engage in coordination and planning duties. This is an appropriate use of this resource.
The school recently moved from a system of having a dedicated annual budget in place for the programme to one where resources are acquired on a needs basis. Given that the coordinator can quickly access resources when they are needed it would appear that this system is currently serving the programme well. The once-off start-up grants supplied to the school by the Department of Education and Science were disbursed appropriately at the time of the introduction of the programme into the school. Some of the ICT equipment purchased at this time, however, is now out-dated.
The Link Modules are taught between a general classroom and the school’s computer room. This arrangement provides students with an appropriate level of access to ICT facilities. This is critical because many of the Link Module activities that students are required to undertake necessitate ICT access. There is a wide range of dedicated LCVP teaching materials in the school. A central storage area, however, should be identified for these resources. Further, an inventory of such resources should be compiled and updated at least annually. This would contribute towards ensuring that the induction of new teachers into the programme is efficient.
1.3 Student selection
At the end of their third year in the school students complete an application form for entry into the school’s senior cycle. This form requires students to indicate their subject preferences for the senior cycle. Admittance to the LCVP is generally based on the subjects for which students indicate a preference; if their preferred subjects subscribe to any of the LCVP vocational subject groupings (VSGs) then they are automatically entered into the LCVP. If their preferred subjects do not subscribe to any of the VSGs then they are generally entered for the Leaving Certificate (established). It was reported that some students deliberately choose their subjects to fulfill the VSG requirement of the programme. In essence, this system means that there are no specific target students in the school for the programme. It is recommended that this student selection system be revised with a view to putting in place one that would seek to more effectively target and select students who would clearly benefit most from engaging with the programme. Any revised system should involve significant inputs from the school’s LCVP coordinator, the school’s guidance counsellor and third year form tutors, as well as a more enhanced input from parents.
There are currently 49 students following the LCVP in the school with one LCVP class group in each of fifth and sixth year of the programme. In the case of a small number of these students it was found that while they were studying the Link Modules their other subjects did not conform to any of the LCVP VSGs. It is important that the school would ensure, on an annual basis, that the programme adheres to all relevant Department of Education and Science circulars and guidelines concerning VSGs. The most recent circular (M0019/2007), for example, states that a student must take two Leaving Certificate subjects from one of the sixteen VSGs currently offered (ten specialist groupings and six services groupings) if they are to be eligible for the LCVP.
1.4 Home, school and community links
There are effective links in place between the school and the homes of LCVP students. Parents, for example, are made aware of the nature of the LCVP through an information evening that is held annually in the school. There are also regular communications between the school and home regarding students’ academic progress, while parents will also attend relevant graduation ceremonies held in the school. The Parents’ Council also assists in organising mock interviews for students and some, mainly those with a business background, will participate on interview panels. Consideration should, however, be given to maintaining more regular contact with parents regarding ongoing LCVP activities, and inviting parents to dedicated LCVP school events.
The LCVP has facilitated the school in developing strong relationships with local businesses and employers, and with local community and voluntary groups. These have come about through a range of activities including work experience, factory visits, case study investigations and guest speakers. These activities are commonly associated with the LCVP and their implementation is considered best practice. Particularly strong links are in place with Kiernan Milling, the Area Action Group and Longford County Enterprise Board.
1.5 Supports for students
At the time of the evaluation the school reported having no students with special educational needs following the LCVP. Similarly, it was reported that there were no students following the programme that had English as an additional language, or who were members of the Traveller community. Notwithstanding, it is also the case that the school reported not having procedures in place for identifying LCVP students who might need learning support. It is recommended, therefore, that such procedures be developed and implemented. Advice from the school’s learning support person/team and guidance counsellor should be sought when drawing up these procedures.
A formal coordination structure for the LCVP is in place in the school. The programmes coordinator appointed three years ago has responsibility for the coordination of the programme, along with the Transition Year. This is a prudent arrangement as it facilitates the identification of generic programme coordination issues, which in turn can reduce duplication of effort and save valuable coordination time. The coordinator’s post is linked to an assistant principal post of responsibility with the LCVP portion of this post entailing primarily the coordination of two LCVP class groups annually. The evaluation highlighted that the TY is currently afforded more direct coordination time by the coordinator than the LCVP. However, the current level of coordination assistance provided by the Link Modules teaching staff compensates for this reduced attention on the part of the coordinator; the Link Modules teaching staff ably assists the coordinator. While the coordination structure in place seems to be working well at the moment it is recommended that a more robust structure be developed over time; one, for example, that would be able to easily withstand any future changes in teaching staff.
Currently, the programme coordinator does not have any timetabled contact with LCVP students and so is coordinating ‘at a distance’. It is recommended that consideration be given to the feasibility of timetabling the coordinator to have lesson contact time with LCVP students. This would facilitate the coordinator in identifying LCVP students and remaining familiar with their needs, as well as allowing for the development of a quality rapport with students.
The coordinator’s duties were made available in written form. While the duties are wide ranging there are areas where the coordinator does not have any input. These include areas such as the purchasing of equipment and materials, student selection issues, the monitoring of student attendance, reporting to staff on LCVP progress and development and participation in professional development. It is recommended that the coordinator’s current schedule of duties be revised with a view to ensuring that they encompass critical coordination areas. The coordinator has access to a shared office, as well as the full range of the school’s administrative and secretarial services. This level of access has a positive effect on the work of the coordinator. Consideration should be given to furnishing the shared office with its own dedicated office equipment over time.
A short hand written LCVP plan was made available for inspection during the evaluation. This plan outlined the aims and objectives of the LCVP, along with the different strategies used by the school when informing students about the LCVP. It is recommended that a more informative programme statement be developed on a collaborative basis in the school, and should include not only the aims and objectives of the programme but also information on the expected outcomes of the programme. It should also reference the strategies used for developing cross-curricular links between teachers of the Link Modules and the VSG subjects.
The coordinator and Link Modules teaching staff identify a time during the week when they both have a free lesson so as they can use this time to meet if necessary. On average, such meetings take place once each month. The meetings are generally informal and so there is no formal agenda and no records are kept. In light of the ad hoc nature of these planning meetings it is recommended that management endeavour to place such planning meetings on a more formal basis. An agenda should be compiled for each meeting and appropriate records should be kept. It is also suggested that other relevant teachers be invited to attend such meetings periodically, for example, the school’s guidance counsellor, as well as teachers who are representative of the VSG subjects.
In general, LCVP record keeping is of a high standard in the school with the coordinator taking responsibility for most of the records. It is recommended, however, that more stringent records be kept of communications with parents and the Department of Education and Science, and of LCVP budgetary information.
Cross-curricular and interdisciplinary links between the LCVP vocational subjects and the Link Modules are limited. These are an important element of the programme as they help students to recognise and utilise connections they find between different parts of their learning. It is recommended that this dimension of the LCVP be developed with particular attention being paid to the potential that project work offers in this respect.
LCVP class groups are allocated three Link Module lessons per week in each of fifth and sixth year of the Leaving Certificate. These usually manifest themselves on the timetable as one double and one single lesson period, which is considered appropriate. The allocation in sixth year is above the two lesson periods recommended by the SLSS for this level. Staff members are appropriately deployed to teach the Link Modules; teacher interest and qualifications generally play a significant part in such deployments.
The timetable is constructed so that when LCVP students are timetabled for their Link Modules lessons other Leaving Certificate (established) students are timetabled for ‘study’ periods. From discussions with LCVP students it was clear that this arrangement makes them feel like they are being penalised for doing the LCVP. Management indicated that they were not satisfied with this arrangement and that it was their intention to review it. The LCVP Link Module lessons should be integrated into the Leaving Certificate timetable in a manner similar to other subjects.
Students qualify to follow the LCVP through a variety of VSG combinations. The most common subjects used are combinations of Construction Studies, Technical Drawing, Home Economics, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Music, Business and Accounting. The school believes that an expansion of the VSGs would facilitate more of its students to study the LCVP. All students fulfil the modern European language requirement of the LCVP by studying either French or German.
Some issues concerning programme requirements arose during the course of the evaluation and these were discussed in some detail with management and relevant staff. It is important for the school to be cognisant of the programme requirements (as detailed annually in relevant Department of Education and Science circulars and guidelines) when planning for future LCVP provision. In particular, the most recent circular (M0019/2007) states that “the programme requirements must be met in full in a single school for a student to be deemed an eligible LCVP student”. It also states that, “changes of mind as to subject choice may be allowed only where they are formally notified to the Department no later than 31 October of Year 1 of the programme”.
Work experience is a prominent element of the LCVP curriculum in the school. It is managed primarily by the LCVP coordinator, but the deputy principal and Link Modules teaching staff will assist at times. The students themselves generally secure their own placements. This range in inputs represents a good example of teamwork. Students normally undertake their work experience for one week during their holiday time in the course of their first year of the LCVP. While it is acknowledged that students are generally well-briefed and well-prepared in advance of embarking on their work experience it is important that the school would put appropriate structures in place to support those students who might experience any difficulty while actually in work placement. Further, in a bid to ensure that students gain the maximum benefits possible from their experience, the school should actively discourage them from using their part-time work employers as work experience employers also. It is important to ensure also that the de-briefing of students following work experience is afforded similar levels of attention as their preparation for the experience itself. Mini-company activities and charity events sometimes feature as part of the LCVP curriculum.
The LCVP Link Modules afford students every opportunity to develop their ICT skills. Students singled out their level of exposure to ICT as one of the main differences between their year and other years in the school and expressed particular satisfaction with their level of exposure to the technology.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
An equal and appropriate level of emphasis is placed on both long and short term planning in the teaching of the LCVP Link Modules. Further, the planning observed was in line with curricular requirements. Students make good use of up-to-date textbooks in their Link Module lessons.
The long term planning documentation observed identified the relationship between subject matter to be covered and the timeframe in which it was to be covered. This is good practice. There was particularly good planning in evidence for the LCVP portfolio of coursework. Written planning was reflective of what was being taught in the classroom. Further, an abundance of teaching materials were in evidence. It was obvious that these had been meticulously accumulated over time.
Teacher preparation in the observed lessons was of a good standard. The preparation of teaching resources and learning materials in advance of lessons was particularly good. There was variety in these resources, for example, which helped to make learning interesting and challenging. Resources observed being used included a laptop computer, digital and overhead projectors and relevant worksheets and handouts. The work undertaken in lessons is usually planned in accordance with the resources available in the classroom; this means that effective use is made of the computers in the IT room when lessons are timetabled to take place in it. Students are allocated space on the school’s server for storing their class work. This is commended. They also have the option of storing hard copies of their work in folders. These can be stored in the classroom.
3.2 Teaching and learning
Both double and single Link Modules lessons were visited during the evaluation. Each lesson was well structured and there was obvious continuity with material learned in previous lessons. The content of pace of observed lessons was always appropriate to the ability levels of students.
The teaching methods practiced in the Link Modules lessons are an excellent example of the teaching principles advocated by the LCVP. A range of active teaching and learning methodologies was employed in the lessons observed. These included group and pair work, discussion and brainstorming sessions and the use of worksheets, as well as the assignment of short tasks that required students to apply investigation skills. A brainstorming and discussion exercise in one particular lesson resulted in the construction of a mind-map on the whiteboard. This was a particularly effective teaching method as it indicated to students how each of their inputs had a place in the learning process, while simultaneously consolidating learning. It is important, however, that students would sometimes receive direction on what to record from the whiteboard into their copies, and that they would be given adequate time to do so. Overall, the teaching methods employed succeeded in successfully engaging students in their lessons. They contributed to developing students’ self-confidence as well as their creativity, teamwork and communication skills.
Effective questioning techniques were used in lessons including higher order, leading and probing questions. Questions varied in their demands, from information retrieval to analysis, from evaluation to interpretation, and the answers that students provided displayed good levels of understanding. In general, all students were given adequate time to reflect before answering questions and were effectively affirmed for correct answers given. Students were also given adequate time to ask questions. Care was taken to ensure that all students were included in question and answer sessions and they were frequently referred to by their first names which gave them a sense of belonging and security within their classrooms.
ICT was used as an effective teaching tool in one of the lessons observed. From examination of students’ work it was also clear that ICT is widely used by students in their learning.
Students’ class work and their degree of participation in lessons were indicative of the fact that quality learning was taking place. An examination of a sample of copies indicated that students were being exposed to the entire content of both of the Link Modules; the work had a strong focus on topics concerned with preparation for the world of work and enterprise education. It was clear from students’ copies, and from discussions with them, that students take pride in their work.
An examination of students’ homework journals revealed that they rarely record being allocated homework. While it is acknowledged that students’ work on their portfolio of coursework between lessons it is the case that this work is concentrated in year two of the LCVP. It is important that homework is regularly allocated, collected, corrected, recorded and that students’ receive timely feedback on this work.
Student learning outcomes, as evidenced for example from the Link Module examination results, are appropriate to the students’ ability levels. Management analyse the examination results achieved each year and these are made available to management and staff alike. This is commended.
There was effective classroom management in each of the lessons visited with the result that classroom discipline was sensitively maintained, and there was an ordered and positive atmosphere. Students were always attentive, interested and anxious to participate in the learning process.
Formative and summative assessment techniques are employed successfully in the Link Modules. Formative techniques are used to continually assess students’ progress and include correction of portfolio items and oral questioning and monitoring of students’ work during lessons. An LCVP student will generally make a number of attempts at their portfolio items before agreement is reached with their teacher regarding its submission for formal assessment. This arrangement indicates that teachers promote high standards in work produced and is commended.
Students are also assessed on their performance in their mock interviews and on their work experience. The assessment techniques employed here involve inputs from employers which is commendable. This kind of information could be used to build up an accurate profile of each student’s skills and talents and could form the basis of very useful evidence in communicating student progress to parents.
Students undergo formal examinations in the Link Modules in year one and two of their LCVP and the reports that are sent home as a result present a grade for their achievements. This is good practice.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
Programme review and evaluation currently tends to take place in an informal manner. Any changes made to the programme are generally as a result of a response to a problem situation. Such changes would be made following discussions of issues between management and the coordinator. The programme has not had a formal, or whole-programme evaluation or review since its introduction into the school. Provisions should be put in place for the regular evaluation and review of the LCVP. Such reviews and evaluations should involve all those with an interest in the programme including management, teachers, students and parents. Efforts should also be made to include the views of employers and other members of the community in such reviews. Students in particular should be encouraged to evaluate each LCVP activity in which they participate, such as work experience, visits out and interviews with visiting entrepreneurs.
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
The LCVP programme delivered in Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School goes a good distance towards fulfilling the national goal of the LCVP which 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”. The goal goes on to state that “participants are encouraged to develop skills and competencies fundamental to both academic and vocational success”. It is the development of these latter skills and competencies in particular that the school should focus on as the LCVP continues to develop in the school’s curriculum. The vocational potential of the Leaving Certificate subjects are currently not being fully realized as the school does not readily implement the cross-curricular aspect of the programme.
The LCVP brings a number of benefits to the school. Firstly, it has managed to increase students’ interest and skill levels in ICT. Secondly, it has helped the school to develop improved links with its local community, particularly with local businesses. Thirdly, work experience has contributed greatly to improving students’ self-esteem; it gives them a greater awareness of what life can be like after school and it assists them in making their career choices. Finally, it has succeeded in encouraging parents, and particularly the parents’ council, to engage more positively with the school. School management believes that the programme has succeeded in retaining some students at school who might have otherwise left school after their Junior Certificate.
It was clear from discussions with students that they enjoy the LCVP. They had clear plans for their future progression and were acutely aware that the Link Modules afforded them active learning opportunities that their peers in the Leaving Certificate (established) programme were not receiving.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The teaching methods practiced in the Link Modules lessons are an excellent example of the teaching principles advocated by the LCVP. Students displayed a good quality of learning in observed lessons.
· ICT is an integral part of the LCVP experience of students.
· There is a generous allocation of time to the teaching of the Link Modules in the LCVP.
· The identification of a mutual time to meet to discuss LCVP issues when necessary on the part of the LCVP coordinator and Link Modules teaching staff is commendable.
· All students fulfill the modern European language requirement of the LCVP.
· There are effective links in place between the school and homes of LCVP students.
· Assessment strategies used in the Link Modules are wide-ranging and well-planned and organised.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· The school should ensure that it complies fully each year with relevant Department of Education and Science guidelines and circulars pertaining to the LCVP. In particular, it is important that students adhere to the various VSG options available in the LCVP, that the programme requirements are met in full within the school itself and that changes of mind regarding subject choice are allowed only where they are formally notified to the Department no later than 31 October of Year 1 of the programme.
· The school should endeavour to provide the LCVP coordinator with timetabled contact with LCVP students.
· Efforts should be made to create a greater awareness of the LCVP among the school staff. VSG teachers should be particularly targeted with a view to developing cross-curricular and interdisciplinary links between the LCVP vocational subjects and the Link Modules.
· Guidance should be sought from the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) regarding the professional development needs of staff. The LCVP coordinator should be prioritised for engaging with such professional development.
· The work experience element of the LCVP should be reviewed with a view to ensuring that students gain the maximum benefits possible from of their experience.
· There is opportunity for a greater role for guidance in the school’s LCVP.