An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Applied Programme
Kilmallock, County Limerick
Roll Number: 76070A
Date of inspection: 13 May 2009
EVALUATION OF THE LEAVING CERTIFICATE APPLIED PROGRAMME
This report has been written following an evaluation of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (LCA) in Coláiste Iósaef. 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 co-ordinator 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 co-ordinator and an LCA team member following the evaluation. 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.
Coláiste Iósaef, a community college under the patronage of County Limerick Vocational Education Committee (VEC), was founded in 1998 following the amalgamation of an earlier community college and a voluntary secondary school. The school offers a wide curriculum to meet the needs of students from the town of Kilmallock and its hinterland. LCA has been offered in the school since 2006.
1.1 Whole school support
The principal, who has a comprehensive knowledge of LCA, facilitates the successful implementation of the programme. Leadership of the programme flows from the overall leadership of the principal and is delegated to the LCA co-ordinator. The co-ordinator maintains a very good level of communication with senior management.
LCA is an integral part of the school’s curriculum and a whole-school approach is adopted in publicising and implementing it. The profile of the programme in the school is positive and prominent. There are short staff meetings in the course of the year dedicated to dealing with the programme. The whole staff is aware and supportive of LCA.
LCA features in much of the school’s information documentation, in publications and in presentations made to parents. To further enhance the profile of the programme it is recommended that the College Prospectus include information on LCA.
It has been decided not to provide LCA in the coming year. It is stated by management that this decision is made in the context of the introduction of the Transition Year programme (TY) which is due to begin in September 2009. Detailed planning for the next three years of LCA in the school is recommended to ensure that the momentum of the programme and the progress made since its introduction in 2006 are not lost. In this context consideration should be given to the possible progression of students through TY to LCA in coming years and to the best way of providing LCA for all students whose needs require it.
Good practice is followed regarding the induction of teachers new to LCA. These teachers are encouraged to attend appropriate continuing professional development (CPD) courses. An LCA teacher-induction booklet provides basic information which is supplemented by the co-ordinator who is readily available to assist and give support as needed. Full information on the induction procedure is included in the LCA plan in line with good practice.
Very good practice has been followed regarding the assignment of teachers to the LCA programme, following consultation, based on their subject specialisms and their interest in being on the LCA team.
Adequate time is allocated to each of the LCA courses and this is spread equitably across the school week. Scheduled weekly instruction time meets the requirements of Circular Letter M29/95.
The programme co-ordinator and LCA teachers have adequate access to information and communications technology (ICT) for preparation of programme documentation and course materials including teaching materials. This access is used well. Students’ access to the computer room for the Introduction to ICT course is appropriate. Use of the computer room can also be arranged for other lessons as required, depending on demand, and it is also used for completion of key assignments and tasks. The use of a number of laptop computers can be arranged when required for lessons outside the computer room. However, ICT is more regularly used in teaching some courses whose teachers have computers within their base classrooms. Increased use of ICT for teaching in the full range of courses should be further explored.
It is recommended that the provision of LCA base classrooms be further considered. This would allow easier integration of ICT into teaching and learning across the full range of courses. Such base classrooms would not require more than two or three computers with broadband internet access as it is not envisaged that they would be used to teach ICT in a whole-class setting. Rather students could, individually or in small groups, undertake research or use computer applications within lessons. The use of LCA base classrooms would also further facilitate the display of materials including key-word charts to strengthen literacy support, cross-curricular integration and learning.
Comprehensive CPD was provided at the introduction of the programme to the school and a record of courses attended by team members is included in the LCA plan. This is good practice. It is recommended, as a further enhancement of provision, that strategies for sharing the outcomes of CPD with the whole staff be devised and included in the LCA plan and the school plan. Such sharing of professional experience and skills has potential for the development of the emerging TY team and the whole staff as well as the LCA team.
1.3 Student selection and support
Good practice is followed in identifying students for LCA. The process is broadly based. The student-support staff, including the guidance counsellor, resource and learning-support teachers, chaplain, year heads and class tutors, all play a role, together with the principal and deputy principal. Identification is on the basis of students’ individual needs which are identified in the course of junior cycle. Comprehensive support for decision making, advice and guidance are directed towards identified students and their parents in advance of their making programme choices in third year.
Specific criteria for the selection of students for the LCA programme are clearly stated in the LCA plan and are also presented to parents and students as they make programme choices. This transparency is good practice. Selection of students includes individual interviews at which students are invited to outline their interest in the programme and their aims and intended learning outcomes should they be accepted. Students are selected on the basis of their individual strengths, interests and suitability for the programme in line with good practice. Students selected have fulfilled the stated criteria and have been those whose educational needs instigated the introduction of the programme.
Provision of accurate and appropriate information regarding the programme is very good and outlines the benefits of the programme to students. Initially all third-year students, with their parents, are invited to an evening where information on each of the senior cycle programmes is presented. All these students also view a display of work by LCA students and are given a separate presentation including input by current LCA students outlining their views on the programme. Following application for admission to the programme, prospective students, with their parents, are again invited to an information evening specifically focused on LCA. This includes a display of work and more detailed presentations.
The timetabling of the guidance counsellor for four periods per week with each of the LCA classes is indicative of the strong role played by guidance in the organisation and implementation of the programme. The awareness of the whole programme team regarding the need for pervasive guidance in the broad sense, and the high priority given to its provision, are also commendable.
Provision for the additional educational needs of LCA students is of a very high standard and is viewed in a whole-school context, with continuity through junior cycle and senior cycle the objective. The LCA co-ordinator and team maintain close links with the resource and learning-support team. Individual plans are developed for students and regularly reviewed. Resources are redeployed as progress is made. The mode of delivery of the support is determined on the basis of meeting the needs of the particular student in the most suitable way. In LCA it is usual for this to involve delivery within the class in a team-teaching context. The teachers involved meet regularly, usually on an informal basis, to plan and discuss their teaching collaboration. Formal meetings of the resource and learning-support team are held about once a week to discuss progress. Appropriate provision is also made for students with English as an additional language.
Induction of students to the programme takes place at the beginning of each year. It includes a team-building afternoon in early September led by a qualified team builder. On the first day of term routine matters, such as the organisation of work folders, the timetable and explanation of terminology specific to LCA are dealt with by the co-ordinator who remains available to meet any students who have further queries about the programme. This procedure deals adequately with the induction of students and it is included in the LCA plan in line with good practice.
1.4 Home-school links
Good practice is followed in contacting parents and making them aware of the nature and purpose of LCA. The co-ordinator meets parents of prospective students in advance of programme selection. Contact with parents is regular and frequent by means of form letters, phone calls and home-school-community liaison. Coffee mornings, incorporating displays of students’ work, facilitate further contact with parents. It is urged that further specific ways to encourage parental involvement and participation in events be identified and included in the LCA plan.
Feedback to parents on students’ progress is meaningful and is provided regularly. Formal reports on students’ progress issue twice per year, in January and June. These reports include a written comment from each teacher as well as grades in subjects in which written examinations have been given. Students’ attendance is also included in reports home. Session results are forwarded to parents together with a note of explanation from the co-ordinator indicating the possible number of credits available to the student in that session. This clarification of the system of credits is good practice. Parents are informed promptly if students risk losing credits due to non-completion of key assignments or inadequate attendance. Standard warning letters are available to course teachers for this purpose or telephone contact may be made. Parents may also be contacted by the HSCL co-ordinator, the year head or the LCA co-ordinator when there is cause for concern. To assure quality in providing timely and comprehensive individual feedback to parents on risks to students’ progress, it is recommended that the procedures in place be further clarified and formalised by inclusion in the LCA plan.
Annual parent-teacher meetings for LCA classes are held as an integral part of fifth-year and sixth-year provision. This is further indication of very good practice regarding inclusion of LCA students and classes within school structures and the equity of esteem that this represents.
The written LCA plan represents very good progress in its development which entails a dynamic ongoing process. The plan is framed in the context of the school’s mission and its commitment to the provision of broad education tailored to individual needs. It is an integral part of the school plan with appropriate references being made to other documents and policies including the whole-school guidance plan and the health and safety policy. This is good practice.
The courses being followed by each of the two LCA year groups in the current year are specified in the plan, including the vocational specialisms and electives, together with their time allocations and assigned teachers. Student tasks to be undertaken by each year group are also scheduled for the appropriate sessions. To further improve this section of the plan it is recommended that complete two-year plans be included for each year group.
All necessary components are contained in the LCA plan including provision for additional educational needs and assessment procedures. As a next step in the development of the assessment component it is suggested that it be expanded to cover all aspects of assessment, including assessment for learning (AfL). The professional experience and skills of LCA team members in implementing AfL together with reference to the following websites may be helpful when undertaking this development of the plan: http://www.slss.ie/resources/c/67/2/SLSS-AfL-IntroductoryReading.pdf and http://www.action.ncca.ie/en/start .
The LCA core team, which consists of the LCA co-ordinator and the deputy principal, meets regularly. Although these meetings are not formally recorded, minutes of whole-team meetings are kept. There have been in the region of seven meetings of the whole LCA team in the current year. It is commended that senior management is represented on the core team. It is recommended that the core team be expanded to be more representative of the different elements of the programme and include as a minimum representatives of guidance or learning support and a vocational specialism in addition to the present members. Regular meetings of the core team would reduce the need for as many whole-team meetings and should focus on the medium and long-term development of the programme. It is recommended that agenda be circulated in advance and that records be kept of meetings of the core team.
Planning for cross-curricular elements of the programme is effective. Members of the LCA team are aware of the common elements of the various modules and collaborate in their implementation. Planning and preparation for cross-curricular work, including planning for integration and the completion of students’ tasks, are facilitated by whole-team meetings. This work is continued at less formal meetings of the teachers who collaborate in supporting particular tasks. This is very good practice which is strongly commended. To derive full benefit from this planning, it is recommended that individual module plans for each course be included in the LCA plan, based on a consistent template and clearly identifying all cross-curricular links and how these links are to be facilitated by appropriate module scheduling and timetabling where necessary. It is recommended that the references to specific teaching methodologies and strategies listed in the plan be further expanded and linked to the module plans that are to be included.
While record-keeping within the programme is generally of a high standard and is comprehensive in general, it is recommended that completed key assignments be passed to the co-ordinator at the end of the session in which credits for the associated module are being awarded. These key assignments should be safely stored until the student concerned completes the programme. It is also urged that a standard procedure be adopted for students to sign off on completed key assignments and that this signing off be attached to the key-assignment work.
Annual review procedures have been appropriate and effective. The review at the end of the first year was based on the outcomes of a meeting of the teaching team. The review at the end of the first two-year cycle of LCA in the school involved teachers, who responded to a questionnaire, students and parents. Groups of students about to complete the programme listed the positive aspects of the programme and made suggestions for improvements. Parents were asked informally for feedback and discussed possible improvements. The outcomes of this review led to modifications that had a positive effect. This responsiveness is commended. As a next step in further developing these broadly-based annual review procedures, it is recommended that they be formalised a little to provide comparable data from year to year. Responses should continue to be sought from all the interested parties, perhaps including past students. The inclusion of the outcomes of annual reviews in the LCA plan is commended and should continue.
Co-ordination of the programme is very effective. It is noted that the programme co-ordinator appointed under the terms of Circular Letter PPT 19/02 is the co-ordinator of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) as well as the LCA programme. In the coming year, with the introduction of the TY programme, there is a need to review arrangements for the co-ordination of programmes in line with the description of duties in the circular letter. The role of the LCA co-ordinator demands timetabled contact with each of the LCA class groups. In the current year this was not the case. It is recommended that the programme co-ordinator have timetabled contact with all LCA class groups.
The school keeps up-to-date records of student retention. Figures included in the LCA plan point to the increasing success of the programme in relation to retaining students to Leaving Certificate. The inclusion of this information in the plan provides assurance of the success of the programme in meeting one of its principal aims and this is good practice.
The courses provided meet the requirements of the programme in each of its elements: Vocational Preparation, Vocational Education and General Education. The courses chosen in the school as vocational specialisms and electives represent a suitably broad and balanced range to meet the interests, skills and needs of the students. The vocational specialisms studied by the students in the second year of the programme are Craft and Design and Agriculture/Horticulture while the students in the first year of the programme study Craft and Design and Engineering. Students in both years were presented with an individual choice of elective courses, Engineering or Childcare and Community Care in second year and Agriculture/Horticulture or Childcare and Community Care in first year. Students study four elective modules from a single course over the four sessions. It is clear from the programme plan that consideration is given to the provision of gender balance in students’ choice of vocational specialisms and electives. The availability locally of opportunities for further study leading on from the courses chosen is also taken into account in designing the programme. The care taken in seeking to meet the preferences and needs of the greatest number of students is commended. Students were provided with good quality guidance and support with regard to making their choice of elective in line with good practice.
3.1 Planning and preparation
Short-term and medium-term planning for the implementation of the school’s plan for the programme is of very good quality and in keeping with stated aims and objectives. Some course and module planning documentation includes comprehensive description and scheduling of the work to be completed, synchronised with related activities planned for completion in other courses and in students’ tasks. This documentation represents an optimal level of course planning, including cross-curricular planning, that should be followed in all courses. Evidence of very good to optimal preparation and planning for lessons was seen in each of the lessons observed. In each case materials and equipment were prepared and available for use when and where required.
The high quality of planning for team teaching in the context of meeting the additional educational needs of students is particularly effective and includes detailed planning for the teaching strategies to be adopted in specific lessons.
Very good practice was seen in the effective use of ICT, for the preparation of teaching and learning materials and these included materials to be used by students to review and assess progress made by themselves and their peers. These ICT materials were deployed in addition to a variety of other resources and stimulus materials that were effectively used to support teaching and learning.
3.2 Learning and teaching
The quality of teaching observed in the course of the evaluation was good in all cases and very good in most. While the aims and objectives of lessons were not overtly negotiated with students, they were made clear from the outset and students were given time and opportunity to indicate their understanding of what the expected outcomes of the lesson were. This is good practice. The pace and structure of the lessons were appropriate to the students’ abilities and set a suitable challenge to encourage effective learning.
The teaching methods applied were suitably varied to meet diverse learning styles and the different educational needs of the students. Active learning was very well supported in lessons. Group and pair work were applied in a variety of situations. Students in one lesson practiced interview skills by alternating roles as interviewer and interviewee very successfully while the teacher circulated and provided help and encouragement as needed. In other lessons students worked in groups and made use of the placemat technique to record their ideas collaboratively. In a practical lesson students worked in pairs to mark-out a piece of metal, care being taken by the teacher to form pairs appropriately so that both students would gain from the collaboration.
Continuity with previous work was maintained in all lessons, initially by means of lively recapitulation in introducing the lesson and thereafter by suitably placed reference to students’ everyday experience and their learning in earlier lessons. Very effective questioning was often used when providing students with opportunities to refresh previous learning.
In all lessons questioning techniques were appropriate and varied to suit the abilities of individual students. The students’ responses to teachers’ questions showed an appropriate level of knowledge and understanding and indicated that effective learning was taking place. Students responded well and engaged meaningfully with the work in each of the lessons observed, often asking questions that showed their progress and growing understanding.
There was evidence of good learning in the students’ readiness to apply their knowledge and understanding. This was particularly evident in the students’ evaluation of the meeting with a guest speaker in one lesson. Their contributions were incisive and well informed. The discussion that took place displayed the students’ understanding of the purpose of the visit as well as their knowledge of the content. Good quality learning was also evident in the task work completed by the students.
Teachers consistently affirmed students for their achievement of the clearly-stated aims of the lessons observed. Teachers’ expectations of students were appropriately high in the context of the individual student’s ability and a suitably differentiated level of challenge was set. Students showed enthusiasm and purpose in their work and co-operated well, particularly when engaged in group activities. Classroom management was effective. Students were appropriately positioned in the classrooms to comfortably benefit from the activities undertaken. The students’ approach and involvement was constructive and they displayed a mature acceptance of the routines of the classrooms. Discipline flowed easily from the positive relationships between the teachers and students and among students themselves and was sensitively maintained by the teachers where necessary.
The formal assessment modes and structures in place are consistent with those required by the programme. Regular assessment is facilitated by the completion of key assignments in the modules of each course. Student tasks are completed as scheduled for assessment by the State Examinations Commission in each of the four sessions. Students sit written, practical and oral State examinations in a variety of subjects as required by the courses undertaken. Effective structures are in place in the school to make the necessary arrangements for these examinations.
Less formal assessment of students’ work is undertaken as an intrinsic part of each module and lesson. This ongoing assessment was observed in the course of the evaluation, including verbal assessment through questioning and in written form as annotation of students’ work as appropriate. Very good practice was followed with regard to this ongoing assessment in line with the best principles of assessment for learning. Students’ work was regularly assessed and feedback to students was appropriately constructive.
Students’ progress and attendance are systematically recorded by course teachers and these records are shared with the LCA co-ordinator and parents. The trends in students’ progress detected through teachers’ record-keeping are shared and discussed with the learning-support department, the members of which are also closely involved with students’ completion of many key assignments and tasks.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Prospective participant students are selected on the basis of their individual strengths, interests and suitability for the programme while accurate and appropriate information is presented to them to support their choice.
· Provision for the additional educational needs of LCA students is of a very high standard.
· The annual programme review has a positive effect on programme planning and delivery.
· The quality of teaching observed in the course of the evaluation was good in all cases and very good in most.
· The teaching methods applied were suitably varied to meet the diverse learning styles and different educational needs of the students.
· Good levels of learning were seen, particularly in the students’ readiness to apply their knowledge and understanding.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· A definite schedule should be set for the next three years of LCA in the school.
· Module plans for each course, based on a consistent template and clearly identifying all cross-curricular links and planned teaching methods and strategies, should be included in the LCA plan.
· The programme co-ordinator should have timetabled contact with each LCA class group.
· Arrangements for the co-ordination of programmes need to be reviewed.
Published, November 2009