An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Transition Year Programme Evaluation
Firhouse Community College
Firhouse, Dublin 24
Roll Number: 70140L
Date of inspection: 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 in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
This report has been written following an evaluation of the TY in Firhouse Community College. It presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the programme in the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held meetings with the school principal, a core group of teachers and with a small group of students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector liaised extensively with the programme coordinator and visited classrooms to observe teaching and learning. The inspector provided oral feedback to teachers on lessons observed. The inspector also examined students’ work and reviewed relevant documentation pertaining to the programme, as well as teachers’ written preparation. The outcomes of the evaluation were discussed with the school principal, the deputy principal, the programme coordinator and members of the core/teaching team at the end of the evaluation period.
Firhouse Community College is a large post-primary school with an enrolment of 559 students. The school is to be commended for offering a full range of curricular programmes including the Junior Certificate (JC), the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the Transition Year Programme (TY), the Leaving Certificate (LC), the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The Transition Year programme has been offered in Firhouse Community College since 1986. The programme has grown and developed over the years to become a very strong component of the curriculum offered in the school.
1.1 Whole school support
There is very good whole-school support for the TY programme in Firhouse Community College. The programme is discussed at staff meetings. The TY coordinator is always invited to contribute to the meetings and give updates on what is happening in TY. There is effective communication about TY in the school as a staff newsletter is published each week and TY notices are placed in this.
All staff members are aware of the TY programme and are available to teach on it as required. TY students have contact with many teachers other than their own teaching team. This contact occurs through the students’ involvement in a wide variety of activities such as the Performing Arts Module, fundraising, minicompanies and the homework club.
Teachers of the programme are encouraged to avail of appropriate professional development. In the recent past members of the TY teaching team have attended TY in-career development courses in Geography, European Studies, Music, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and History. The commitment to continuous professional development is most laudable. A formal meeting for TY teachers who are new to the school is arranged with the TY coordinator. This is effective practice as it ensures that teachers have all the information necessary to teach the programme. Morale among the teaching team is high. Teachers spoke enthusiastically of their involvement in TY and in particular of the educational benefits of the programme in Firhouse Community College. The staff is to be commended for their genuine commitment to TY.
There are good resources to support the implementation of the TY programme in the school. [h3] The TY co-ordinator has a dedicated office which is equipped with a computer, printer, and broadband access. ICT is used very effectively in organizing the programme. Many generic TY resources are held in the office. It is recommended that a list of these resources be compiled and included in the TY written programme. All subject specific resources and materials are distributed to subject departments immediately when they arrive in the school. This is good practice. Other resources include computer rooms with internet access, televisions, DVD players, a digital camera, a laminator and photocopiers.
The TY capitation grant is used to fund workshops, subsidise outings and cover the costs of inviting theatre groups in the school. It is also used for printing and developing photographs and certificates. No specific TY contributions are requested from parents or students but parents are invited to make voluntary contributions which are used to fund extra-curricular activities. It is evident that funds are made available to support TY activities and that these are well used to serve the needs of the students.
1.3 Student selection
The TY programme is compulsory in Firhouse Community College for all students who wish to progress to the Leaving Certificate. Each year a small number of students who wish to take the Leaving Certificate Applied programme do not do TY. In the current year a total of 70 students are enrolled in TY. These students are divided into three class groups. The class groupings are reformed after the Junior Certificate. This ensures that students have the opportunity to form new work and friendship groups. This is good practice. Generally the classes in TY are mixed ability for modular and some optional subjects. This is commendable. In the case of most of the core subjects a system of streaming or banding operates. It is recommended that in so far as possible that all subject departments adhere to the mixed-ability ethos when forming class groupings in TY.
1.4 Home, school and community links
There are excellent practices regarding home and school communication in evidence in the school. Information meetings are held for parents and they are welcome and encouraged to attend all TY activities in the school. There is a formal parent-teacher meeting once a year. The school is to be commended for the effective and successful communication with the parent body.
Links between Firhouse Commuity College and the community are excellent. TY students undertake one week’s community work as part of the TY programme. The school has worked over many years to establish contacts with a large network of community organisations. Students take up placements is hospices, hospitals, day and residential care centres. It is a tribute to the school and the students that placements are offered again each year and is a testament to how well prepared the students are for such placements. There are also good links with prospective employers which have been forged through work-experience placements. The links are further strengthened by the fact that the TY coordinator and other members of staff are in constant liaison with community and work organizations prior to and during student placements. This practice is exemplary.
Co-ordination of the TY programme is excellent. This is due largely to the dedication, enthusiasm and commitment of the TY co-ordinator. Formal programme co-ordinating structures are in place and are operating effectively. The post of TY co-ordinator is an assistant-principal post in the school. This is indicative of support of senior management that a senior post of responsibility is assigned to the job of co-ordination of TY. The post carries a time allowance of four hours. It is evident that far many co-ordination duties are carried out outside this time frame.
A comprehensive list of co-ordinating duties was presented at the time of the evaluation. These duties range from liaising with senior management, teaching staff, students and outside agencies to planning, organizing and documenting events and activities. To facilitate effective co-ordination the co-ordinator has an office with good access to ICT resources. This office is also the central storage area for programme resources.
The co-ordinator communicates regularly and effectively with senior management. The co-ordinator and the TY Year Head have scheduled weekly meetings. This is good practice. The progamme co-ordinator maintains very good communication with TY teachers. The TY notice board in the staffroom is maintained by the TY coordinator. This ensures that all staff is kept up-to-date on events. When a member of staff is new to the TY teaching team the co-ordinator ensures that he/she is aware of the resources and has the necessary documentation relating to the programme. This is praiseworthy.
The TY co-ordinator has timetabled contact with only one TY class group. However, effective communication is maintained with all students through regular informal contact and through class visits. It was clear during the evaluation that the students have an excellent rapport with the coordinator. There is also a notice board in the corridor for TY students. This is good practice.
A current written plan is in place for the TY programme. This TY plan comprises subject plans for each subject or module taught in the programme. It is recommended that the programme be developed to encompass the format and suggestions outlined in the brochure Writing the Transition Year Programme. This would essentially mean writing an introduction to the TY programme (Part 1) and documenting the organisational details (Part 3). Part 2 is already documented in the form of the subject and modular plans. The vast majority of this material exists in the school already so it is a matter of collating it into one document. It is recommended that when the written programme has been completed according to the guidelines that a number of copies be made available in the staffroom.
The subject and modular plans are all written using the common format similar to that provided in the brochure Writing the Transition Year Programme. This in itself is good practice. A minority of these plans are developed to include very specific detail on student tasks and student learning outcomes. This is exemplary practice and to be very highly commended. It is recommended that all plans be developed to include these aspects.
The majority of plans refer to cross curricular links with other subjects or modules. One very good example of interdisciplinary work is the Performing Arts Module where students get the opportunity to see links between Art, Music, Drama and Technical Graphics. This is most laudable. It is recommended that more opportunities for interdisciplinary activities be exemplified in the individual subject and modular plans.
It is also noted that the majority of subject and modular plans include a section on evaluation. It is clear from reading the plans that in some cases information on student assessment is detailed under this heading. It is recommended that these plans state how the subject or module will be evaluated from the point of view of content and methodologies. It would be useful to do this in conjunction with section 2.10 of the brochure Writing the Transition Year Programme. In the case of one of the core subjects separate plans were written for higher and ordinary level. It is recommended that common plans be developed for all subjects in keeping with the spirit of TY curriculum principles.
A TY core team is in place. The core team engages fully in the planning process for TY. The core team in Firhouse Community College comprises the TY co-ordinator, the Year Head, class tutors, the Guidance Counsellor and the school chaplain. Through this combination of staff a number of subject departments are also represented which is good. The core team meets formally usually three times a year. More frequent meetings of representatives of the core team are held on a needs basis and depending on calendar activities. At present minutes of the core team meetings are not kept. It is recommended that these meetings be minuted and that the minutes be kept as a record of planning activities and decisions reached.
The curriculum in TY is broad and balanced and adheres to the principles underlying TY. The four layers which normally form the TY curriculum, namely core, modular, optional and calendar were all present in the written plans and in the taught curriculum.
Irish, English, Mathematics, French, P.E., R.E., Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Health Education are the core subjects in the TY curriculum. A very rich programme of subject modules is available to the students. These include European Studies, Gender and Equality Studies, Video and Communications. Music, Drama, Graphic Design and Art have all been grouped together to form the Performing Arts Module (PAM). PAM has been designed to enable all students to actively participate in the TY musical production due to be held later in the academic year. In Music the students learn the music and songs for the show. In Drama the actors prepare their different roles. In Graphic Design students prepare the advertising material, tickets and programme for the show. In Art the students work on costumes and stage sets. The design of PAM ensures that every single TY student is involved in the production. This is excellent practice. Once the show is over students take the other subjects in PAM to ensure that they experience all aspects of this enriching module. Students are offered the possibility of studying Russian and Spanish as language modules. Offering a broader range of languages to include lesser-taught languages is effective practice. The optional subjects include Woodwork, Home Economics and Metalwork. It was noted that the Home Economics class in TY comprises students who are taking the subject for the first time and those who have completed a junior certificate examination in the subject. It is recommended where possible that the students be divided into two class groups to ensure adequate progression for the students who have already attained a certain level in the subject.
Work experience and community care form part of the curriculum in TY. One period per week is dedicated to a work experience lesson where students are prepared for the world of work. Students have two weeks work experience in the course of TY. At the time of the evaluation students were preparing for a week’s community care placement. There was evidence of most thorough and detailed preparation for students in advance of the placement. This is highly commendable as it enhances students’ capabilities to deal with new situations in the context of the community placement.
Timetabling is generally good in TY. The Performing Arts Module is allocated a triple period on one afternoon per week. This is effective as it facilitates real progress to be made in these subject areas. It was noted that there are two class periods of Gaeilge on a Monday, one on Friday and none on the intervening three days. This distribution does not facilitate best practice in language learning. It is recommended that where possible a more even distribution of periods for Gaeilge should take place.
Analysis of the TY timetable shows that students in two of the class groupings have an extended lunch break on Thursday. The three class groups are not timetabled for any lessons last period on Friday. Overall there is a shortfall of approximately 1.5 hours of the minimum requirement which a school has to provide, 28 hours of instruction per week as per circular M29/95 “Time in School”. While it is acknowledged that TY students are offered the possibility of after-school activities such as First Aid and St Patrick’s project work on a Wednesday and a Friday, this is optional and not every student attends. The school authorities are aware of the shortfall and the requirements of the circular M29/95 and are committed to addressing the matter. It is recommended that this shortfall be redressed as soon as possible.
ICT forms an important part of the curriculum in TY. Students have one discreet lesson per week in computer studies. In addition students have access to ICT resources in the school to do research and ICT forms part of the teaching and learning of certain subjects and modules. The emphasis on the development of ICT skills for the students is commendable.
Action projects form part of the curriculum in TY. Students take part in Gaisce (the President’s Award), in video production and in Model United Nations. Students also participate in the St Patrick’s Festival project, in the organization of a camogie blitz, in homework clubs for junior cycle students and in mini-company projects. The wide variety of such projects and the tremendous commitment on part of staff and students in the organization of such projects is to be very highly commended. These projects and others enhance the curricular provision for TY students in a most effective way.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
Long-term planning for subjects and modules has been referred to in section 2.2 above. In the course of lesson observation it was clear that the majority of lessons were well planned in advance. Materials, handouts and other resources for use in the course of lessons had been well prepared. Planning was at its best where lesson content and activities were planned with a focus on intended learning outcomes. It is recommended that all short-term planning be informed by an analysis of desired learning outcomes for students. This will bring great benefit to teaching and learning as there will be clarity surrounding what it is exactly that the learner is supposed to be able to do at the end of a lesson. Effective teaching methodologies were planned in advance in most cases.
3.2 Teaching and learning
In the course of the evaluation lessons in a wide range of subjects including core, optional and modular were observed. Lesson content in the majority of lessons was designed with the interests and needs of students in mind. The pace of most lessons was very good and students progressed readily from one activity to the next. This facilitates student learning and is to be commended. In many lessons the aims and objectives were clearly stated at the outset. This is good practice and should be extended to all lessons.
A good variety of teaching methods was observed across lessons. Best practice was observed where students were given tasks to complete in small groups. These tasks were assigned with specific outcomes in mind which were stated clearly in advance to the learners. Students engaged very readily in group and pair work. It was evident that ‘learning by doing’ was taking place in an effective manner. These activities encouraged team work and fostered team spirit among students. Teachers facilitated this learner engagement in an excellent manner by circulating in the classroom, listening to students and giving appropriate helpful input where necessary. It is recommended that this type of pair and group work be extended to all lessons as much as possible.
The overall quality of student learning was very good. In some lessons observed, students were engaged in independent research. This is exemplary as students are set the task of finding out knowledge for themselves. In some lessons students were required to follow up on such a task by giving a presentation to fellow students on a topic. This worked very well and students developed confidence and good oral skills as a result of such activities. In some lessons observed students were given time to engage in reflection and self-reflection. This is effective and enhances the learning process.
In other lessons group discussions with students took place. These generally followed an input such as a video clip or information given by a teacher. The class discussions as observed in the course of the evaluation were very good. Teachers facilitated such discussions very skillfully so as to ensure that students listened to one another and responded to one another’s points of view. In some such discussions students sat in a circle rather than in the traditional classroom lay out of seats in rows. It is recommended that where possible this type of non-traditional seating arrangement be used as this will further enhance the learning environment.
The classroom atmosphere in all lessons observed was very good. Students were encouraged to contribute to the lesson. Students’ contributions were praised and affirmed. This is good practice and created a positive environment in which learning could take place.
A variety of assessment methods are employed in the course of TY. In some subject areas major assessment take place through a portfolio of course work and major assignments. Shorter assessments are also assigned to TY students. These take the form of making posters, quizzes and short oral or written questions at the end of units of learning. In some subjects students are encouraged to choose their own theme for a poster or a project. This is good practice as it involves the students in negotiated learning. It is recommended that offering students choice in both type and subject matter of assessment be extended to all subject areas where possible.
In some instances the written plan for assessment indicates that student differentiation will be taken into account when designing assessments. This is exemplary practice as it recognizes the importance of affording students with different levels of ability the opportunity to complete assignments appropriate to their level.
Students’ participation in lessons and general contributions to classroom tasks are taken into account as part of the assessment in many subjects. In addition to active participation the other main criteria used in assessing students are teamwork, leadership, organizational skills and initiative. It is commendable that such a wide range of appropriate criteria are used in assessment.
Students are encouraged to engage in self-assessment. Students complete weekly diaries outlining their various experiences and their responses to them. They also set themselves the challenge of completing a practical achievement task. This is exemplary practice. Students receive certificates as recognition for the completion of various tasks. Some certificates could be issued in different languages to the students; for example, certification of participation in the St Patrick’s Day project could be in Gaeilge.
Students’ portfolios were viewed in the course of the evaluation. These showed evidence of the great variety and richness of the students’ achievements in the course of TY. The wide variety of assessments which match the innovative teaching methods and lesson content are to be highly commended. Student awards ceremonies are held twice a year at the end of the first term and at the TY graduation ceremony at the end of May. Each student receives a certificate of achievement in the overall TY programme and a folder containing certificates and awards achieved throughout the year.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
The TY programme is evaluated annually in its entirety. The students, parents, staff and senior management are all given written evaluation form to complete as part of the annual review. This is to be commended. The information gathered as a result of the evaluation is used to remodel certain aspects of the programme. For example information from recent programme evaluation has led to the introduction of student induction sessions, the implementation of community care placements and the development of PAM. The manner in which the programme is evaluated and developed as a result is excellent practice.
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
The TY programme in Firhouse Community College strives to and succeeds in upholding the mission statement of the TY as set out in the document Transition Year Programmes:Guidelines for Schools (Department of Education and Science:1995). The programme benefits students in many ways. Most strikingly the benefits are obvious in the area of personal and vocational development. The students develop a strong sense of self-confidence. This is developed through an emphasis on independent and active learning and also through the opportunities provided for students in the course of work-experience.
Students who are participating in the programme display a positive attitude towards school and education. They are particularly enthusiastic about new methods of learning such as discovery learning and project work. The development of students’ social awareness through the community care placements in TY is particularly impressive. It was reported that students continue voluntary work which they started in TY right up to sixth year. This is a clear example of the effectiveness of the TY programme in preparing students for their role as participative and responsible members of society.
The students and staff are to be highly commended for the richness and effectiveness of the programme and for the success in attaining the programme objectives.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good whole-school support for the TY programme in Firhouse Community College.
· There are effective links between the school and the parents of TY students.
· Links between Firhouse Commuity College and the community are excellent. This strengthens the vocational aspect of the programme.
· Co-ordination of the TY programme is excellent. Formal programme co-ordinating structures are in place and are operating effectively.
· The TY curriculum is broad and balanced. In designing the curriculum for the programme the principles underlying TY are adhered to. The wide variety of projects and the tremendous commitment on part of staff and students in the organization of such projects are to be very highly commended.
· A wide variety of effective methodologies was in evidence in the lessons observed. Students were active participants in their own learning and good learning outcomes were achieved.
· The TY programme in Firhouse Community College is successful in attaining the programme objectives. Students in the programme benefit academically, personally and vocationally.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· A list of TY generic resources be compiled and included in the TY written programme. It is recommended that the programme be developed to encompass the format and suggestions outlined in the brochure Writing the Transition Year Programme.
· It is recommended that all short-term planning be informed by an analysis and statement of desired learning outcomes for students.
· It is recommended that more opportunities for interdisciplinary activities be exemplified in the individual subject and modular plans. In these plans it should also be stated how the subject or module will be evaluated from the point of view of content and methodologies.
· It is recommended that in so far as possible that all subject departments adhere to the mixed-ability ethos when forming class groupings in TY.
· Analysis of the TY timetable shows that students are timetabled for less than the minimum 28 hours of instruction per week. This is a shortfall of approximately 1.5 hours of the minimum requirement as per circular M29/95 “Time in School”. This is a compliance issue and should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Published September 2008
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management welcomes the very positive outcome of the Transition Year Evaluation. The acknowledgement of the richness and effectiveness of the programme offered, and the success of the students and staff in attaining the programme objectives, is very much appreciated.
The Board is very pleased that the commitment, dedication and enthusiasm of the Transition Year co-ordinator and the teaching staff is recognised and affirmed.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
The recommendations of the Inspector are accepted by the Board and will be implemented in due course. They are viewed as a means of building on the existing good practice.