An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Transition Year Programme Evaluation
St Raphaela’s Secondary School
Stillorgan, County Dublin
Roll Number 60361V
Date of inspection: 25 and 26 March 2009
This report has been written following an evaluation of the Transition Year (TY) programme in St Raphaela’s Secondary School, Stillorgan, Co. Dublin. It presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the programme in the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held meetings with the school principal, the co-ordinator, 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 programme coordinator and members of the core team at the end of the evaluation period.
St Raphaela’s Secondary School introduced TY to its programme provision in 1980. Participation in TY is optional as outlined in the school’s admission’s policy. There are currently two class groups following the programme. The school’s mission is lived out through many aspects of the TY programme including 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
A whole-school approach to TY, in accordance with Transition Year Programmes, Guidelines for Schools, is fostered by senior management, who take an active part in the planning, development, and promotion of TY in the school. The principal displays effective leadership regarding the programme and its implementation. The whole school community is kept fully informed regarding the TY programme in many ways. TY is on the agenda of every staff meeting when the coordinator can address the whole staff on issues relating to TY. In this way, staff can contribute to the effective planning and review of the programme and minutes of staff meetings provide evidence of the extent of whole staff consultation regarding TY. Information is disseminated to students and staff through the special TY notice boards. TY events, activities, and student successes are highlighted in articles published in the school’s newsletter.
Student achievement in TY is affirmed and celebrated by the school community. This is very good. Upon completion of TY, a dedicated TY awards event is organised. This important event includes a formal presentation of TY certificates and also affords students with the opportunity to display samples of the work they have completed throughout the year. TY students are also affirmed and celebrated at the whole-school prize-giving ceremony at Christmas and summer where they are awarded certificates for their academic performance and application to study.
Senior management effectively deploys teachers across the programme and teachers’ skills are well utilised in designing and implementing the TY programme. The majority of teachers on the staff is involved in the delivery of TY. There is ongoing support for staff to pursue continuing professional development (CPD). For example, teachers of TY have participated in in-service programmes which have enhanced the delivery of TY modules, including the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) and the Design and Engineering Module. The current coordinator has participated in the TY induction course for new coordinators, the benefit of which was clearly in evidence during the evaluation.
TY classrooms and subject specialist rooms are commendably utilised for the delivery of the programme. Information and communication technology (ICT) was used effectively in both organising and implementing the programme. It is recommended that ICT be further integrated into TY students’ learning experiences and in this context consideration should be given to enhancing ICT facilities in the TY base classrooms. A comprehensive list of TY resources should be made available on the school’s computer network in an effort to promote cross-curricular approaches to TY programme implementation.
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
Third-year parents are invited to a TY programme information evening and parents are encouraged to discuss the TY option with their daughters following this presentation. Applications to the programme are invited following which students may be requested to present for interview to ensure student suitability to the school’s TY programme. Students who would benefit from the programme and who have not applied are also interviewed. It is very good that the criteria for the allocation of places to TY are clearly laid out in the school’s enrolment policy.
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 achieve interview skills, are introduced to the world of work, attend a careers evening, visit university campuses and undergo differential aptitude testing (DATs) to help direct them to appropriate subjects for Leaving Certificate. This is commendable. It is very praiseworthy that guidance is timetabled for one lesson period each week for TY.
Students with additional needs are well supported and resource hours are well utilised. A small number of students have special needs assistants (SNAs) and SNA support is available to students for most activities and subjects. There is occasional withdrawal for support with project work and foundation level Mathematics and Irish are provided through the learning support department. Differentiation practices were evident in the classroom, the benefit of which was evident in the successes of the TY students.
At the outset of the academic year students partake in a very good induction programme. Students are guided through the timetable for the year and are informed of rules and expectations pertaining to the TY programme in the school. An induction questionnaire is distributed with a clear focus on highlighting student achievement, expectations and reasons for choosing TY. Students are taken on an induction trip in September to consolidate the induction process. The weekly timetabled lesson period assigned for the coordinator to meet with the TY group facilitates enhanced support to students throughout the year.
1.4 Home-school links
The TY programme in St Raphaela’s has received full parental support. Contact with parents is on-going throughout the year and letters reviewed during the evaluation show the extent of this communication. Initially, parents are made aware of the purpose and nature of the TY programme at the information evening. Parents are invited to the school’s awards ceremonies and to the TY graduation night and are invited to make suggestions regarding the programme at this time. Many parents play an active part in TY, for example, parents are invited to present information on their own careers at the careers evening and are approached to help regarding work experience placements. Parents also support the school’s annual musical production in cooperation with a local boys’ secondary school.
The school newsletter and school website keep parents informed of school activities, including TY activities. There is ongoing communication between home and school through the student journal and it was evident in the course of the evaluation that these journals were well utilised and kept up-to-date. Parents receive meaningful feedback on student progress by means of school reports sent home following examinations at Christmas and Easter. The format of the student report template for TY has been adapted to include all subjects and modules in addition to the core subjects. Reports also indicate attendance, punctuality and general behaviour in addition to the grade and comment. This is very good. To strengthen parental communication in TY and to gather further evaluative comments from parents on the programme, it is recommended that a parent- teacher meeting be introduced for TY, and it is suggested that the student may be present at this meeting.
The school has an appropriate current TY written plan in place. It is comprehensive, broadly in line with Department guidelines and outlines the many aspects of programme provision. The plan begins with the aims and objectives for the programme. It then outlines the structure of the TY curriculum and addresses such matters as programme induction, assessment, evaluation, links with parents and the community and financial and organisational details. However, the TY subject plans require further attention. Each subject plan should follow Department guidelines on writing the programme, including details on how each subject is evaluated and how a cross-curricular approach can be developed. Therefore, it is recommended that TY subject planning be reviewed. ICT provides an opportunity for subject departments to draw up their TY subject plans electronically. In this way each plan can be easily updated following annual review.
A small TY core team, consisting of the TY coordinator, the guidance counsellor, the work-experience coordinator and the TY class tutors drive the programme forward with vision and enthusiasm. The core team assists the coordinator in organising the programme and evidence gathered in the course of the evaluation shows that the core team plays a vital role in the implementation and evaluation of TY in the school. Team meetings take place once per month and issues discussed include programme organisational issues and forthcoming events.
The TY programme is collaboratively evaluated and programme evaluation and review have had a positive effect on the delivery and implementation of the TY programme in the school. For example, the timetabling of Physical Education (PE) and the ECDL was modified to best suit student needs and a swimming module was introduced in addition to self-defence to raise awareness of the importance of exercise and fitness. Student responses in the TY questionnaire administered annually provide evidence of a very high level of satisfaction with TY and students confirmed their high level of satisfaction in the course of the evaluation. Staff meetings play a vital role in internal evaluation of TY. It is recommended that evaluative practices be further developed by requiring students to maintain a logbook diary where they can record and evaluate their personal TY experiences on a weekly basis.
TY coordination duties are clearly defined, are extensive and include the following tasks: organisation and planning of the programme; liaising with the whole school community; and maintaining records and reports. These duties are carried out very effectively. In addition, the TY coordinator also undertakes TY year head duties and meets other year heads on a weekly basis. In this capacity, the coordinator looks after student discipline and pastoral issues and monitors attendance, school uniform and school journals. It is very good that the coordinator has regular class contact with all TY students. Communication with parents, senior management, teaching staff, students and the whole school community is very effective.
The TY curriculum in St Raphaela’s endeavours to enable students to build on their academic achievements, to prepare for senior cycle and for their future role in society. The curriculum offers a variety of subjects, modules and activities and is broad and balanced in line with Department guidelines. Some core subjects offer continuity from junior cycle and some optional Leaving Certificate subjects are sampled. Some new subjects are introduced including Japanese, with a view to formulating a class group for fifth year. It is very praiseworthy that a very high uptake of Japanese for Leaving Certificate has followed its introduction in TY. Students are provided with a half-yearly rotation of many subjects and it is very good that all students take all subjects regardless of having chosen that subject at junior cycle, the only exception being the continuation of their previous modern European language. Short modules are organised in subjects such as Russian, Gaelic Football Coaching, First Aid and Self-assertiveness. These courses provide diversity within the TY curriculum. In relation to core subjects, however, it is recommended that the content of the TY Mathematics course be re-evaluated to ensure that there is a suitable balance between core academic material and innovative TY material.
Active learning, group and team work have been successfully integrated into many key aspects of the programme. The Log on Learn Initiative is very praiseworthy in that TY students are required to teach a computer module to older members of the local community who come into the school. The links fostered are very beneficial to all involved. However, because this activity is not timetabled, students can lose out on valuable tuition in other subjects. It is recommended that the school endeavours to timetable such activities in an effort to ensure other courses can complete their planned activities.
Activities outside the classroom are encouraged and supported by the school and these activities are a vital element of the TY programme. Students are timetabled for an outreach programme whereby they experience a variety of cultural experiences such as drama and film-making. Confidence building is promoted through these activities. Networking with other schools is a very praiseworthy activity in any TY programme as is the sharing of resources, teacher expertise and student talent. Opportunities to forge cross-curricular links between subjects are exploited. Currently, these links are focused on Physical Education, Home Economics and the school musical. However, further opportunities may present themselves in the future.
Students are provided with opportunities to learn to be responsible and participative citizens and actively participate in their local community including involvement in the community care programme which has the aim of affording students the opportunity to volunteer in their local community. This half-yearly module plays a vital part in fulfilling key aims of TY. Students work in local hospitals, crèches and schools and help young adults with learning difficulties. The fact that students are timetabled for this on a weekly basis contributes to the incremental development of social awareness.
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 students’ 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. Students receive a full day workshop on personal grooming and presentation in advance of their work placement. This is very good practice. Work experience is organised in one two-week block, with students encouraged to achieve different work placements for each week. In addition, a third week is possible for some students to facilitate special placements. An evaluation form is sent to employers and feedback has been very positive. It is also very positive that students evaluate their own work experience and are encouraged to discuss their work experiences in class.
3.1 Planning and preparation
A written yearly current plan was available for all subjects evaluated in the course of the inspection. The taught programme reflected, in the main, the school’s plan for the programme. The good level of advance planning for lessons led to effective student learning. Handouts, materials and practical and ICT equipment were ready in advance of lessons. The varied methodologies observed in lessons worked very well as a result of well-thought-out strategies.
3.2 Learning and teaching
Lessons were in the main well structured. The practice of sharing learning objectives with students and concluding each lesson with a plenary review should be extended to appropriate subjects and modules. The pace of lessons was suitable to students’ abilities. Relationships in the classroom were very good and student learning was enhanced as a result. Classroom management was effective. Teacher inputs were generally short, clear and concise and teachers in the main demonstrated an awareness of TY aims while delivering classroom lessons. Teachers had high expectations of students and students responded positively to these expectations. Students enjoyed the variety of learning experiences encountered both within and outside the classroom.
There was seamless integration of a wide variety of activities, interactions and teaching methodologies. The board was used effectively to highlight key ideas and as an aid to group assignments. However, it is recommended that ICT be used more widely as an aid to student learning. For example, its use would enable students to focus on important key ideas, graphs and diagrams and would further consolidate the learning process. In addition, it is suggested that group work would encourage students to support each other and it is recommended that this methodology be incorporated more widely into TY lessons. Participation by students was very good in the vast majority of lessons, however, it is recommended that when half of a class group are actively involved in an activity, that the other students are given a similar active assignment. Worksheets and other teaching aids were used to reinforce learning and to engage students as active learners. It is recommended that this practice be extended to other appropriate lessons.
In one lesson, students learned about eating disorders and were given group assignments to analyse a case history. Students showed an ability to summarise, to present their findings confidently and to communicate collaboratively in the completion of their assigned task. The skills developed are in line with TY aims. Students’ confidence was developed and reinforced in line with TY guidelines. In addition, the attention to students’ social and personal education was excellent.
Questions were designed to elicit specific responses but emphasis was also placed on higher-order questions, which encouraged students to hypothesise, to speculate and to explain their reasoning. Evidence was provided in the course of the evaluation to indicate that students’ understanding of material was of a high quality. In one lesson visited, students discussed an interview they had carried out with an elderly relative. Students had recorded responses to questions posed on a well-designed worksheet. A video highlighting the events of a particular year was played for a short time, with a focused discussion comparing then to now, with a good focus on critical thinking skills through probing questions. This active learning experience fulfils key TY aims.
Practical activities and development of research skills was the focus of some lessons evaluated. Differentiated teaching practices were in evidence with individual and group help and support as needed. A very good investigative approach to learning and active learning were promoted.
Teachers were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and innovative. Concepts were explained with clarity and students demonstrated positive attitudes to learning. In the case of some subjects evaluated, it is recommended that materials, ideas and methodologies be introduced into the subject, in line with TY guidelines, to make it an innovative experience for students. Linking the learning experience to students’ everyday lives will aid this process.
TY students sit examinations at Christmas and at Easter and reports are sent to parents following these examinations. There is ongoing assessment through class work and project work. Employers assess students’ work experience and self-assessment is encouraged through students’ personal reflection journal which is maintained and monitored in English lessons. This is very good practice. There is systematic recording of students’ attendance and progress and high quality records are maintained.
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 forms part of students’ overall end-of-year assessment. For example, students may be allowed 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.
There is good emphasis on homework in the TY programme with homework being assigned during many lessons evaluated. Students receive annotated feedback and affirmative comments on their work in some subjects and this is very good practice as it supports formative assessment. The school’s academic committee has carried out a comparative analysis of TY students’ Leaving Certificate grades compared to those who have not chosen TY and have found favourable outcomes for those who had chosen TY. This practice exemplifies the very positive and forward-looking approach adopted by the school in relation to the TY programme.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· A whole-school approach to TY is fostered by senior management, TY coordinator and the teaching staff. The whole school community is kept fully informed regarding TY and its implementation.
· The school has an appropriate current TY plan in place.
· TY coordination duties are clearly defined. These duties are carried out very effectively.
· The TY curriculum is broad and balanced.
· Students are well prepared for work experience with support from the TY coordinators, the school guidance service and senior management.
· A small TY core team drives the programme forward with vision and enthusiasm.
· Relationships in the classroom were very good and student learning was enhanced as a result. Classroom management was effective. Teacher inputs were generally short, clear and
concise and teachers were in the main aware of TY aims while delivering lessons.
· Teachers have high expectations of students and students responded positively to these expectations. Students enjoyed the variety of learning experiences.
· Students’ confidence was developed and reinforced in line with TY guidelines.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that ICT be further integrated into TY students’ learning experiences and in this context consideration should be given to enhancing ICT facilities in the TY base classrooms.
· 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.
· To ensure that valuable tuition in other subjects is not lost, it is recommended that the school timetables certain TY activities.
· 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 forms part of students’ overall end of year assessment.
Published March 2010