An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Applied
Presentation Secondary School
Listowel, County Kerry
Roll Number: 61380H
Date of inspection: 16 October 2008
EVALUATION OF THE LEAVING CERTIFICATE APPLIED PROGRAMME
This report has been written following an evaluation of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme in Presentation Secondary School, Listowel. 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 programme co-ordinator and a core team member following the evaluation. 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.
Presentation Secondary School, Listowel continues an eighty-year tradition of the Presentation order providing for the second-level education of girls from the town and the surrounding areas. LCA has been part of the curriculum of the school since 1996 when it was introduced as a response to meeting the educational needs of the whole community.
1.1 Whole-school support
The leadership of the principal and the support of school management are positive elements in the success of the LCA programme and in the effectiveness of its implementation in the school. The principal has a deep understanding of the purpose, functioning, aims and objectives of the programme and is fully aware of its importance to the school, and in particular to the students for whom it is provided. Management’s commitment to the educational needs of students and to the suitability of the LCA programme in meeting those needs was instrumental in the introduction of the programme and this commitment remains undiminished. There is very strong support for the programme.
LCA has a high profile in the school. All staff members are involved in the ongoing review of the programme and in reflection on its progress. LCA is fully integrated into the life and organisation of the school and the two LCA classes, one in fifth year and one in sixth year, play a full role in their respective year groups, having the same year head as their peers in other Leaving Certificate (LC) classes. Information on LCA is provided at staff meetings where progress is regularly reported.
The high quality whole-school approach to publicising and implementing the programme is evidenced by the broad range of measures taken by school management. These include the insertion of sections on LCA into the school prospectus and the senior programmes booklet published by the school. Other strategies include the circulation to parents and students of the school’s own information leaflet as well as nationally published information on LCA, the inclusion of an LCA feature and photographs in the annual school magazine and a special LCA display at the annual open night, where a summary of LCA examination results is displayed alongside other results. Parents of sixth-class pupils considering entering the school are made fully aware of the programme when addressed by the principal and deputy principal as part of the pre-enrolment process. Ongoing effective use is made of an LCA notice board in the staffroom, which is regularly updated to keep all staff in touch with the implementation of the programme.
Practice regarding the recruitment of teachers to the programme is good. All teachers are given the opportunity each year to express interest in becoming involved in the LCA team and those who do are timetabled as needed. While most teachers remain on the team, the induction of new teachers onto the programme is a regular occurrence. The LCA co-ordinator takes charge of providing direction and induction for teachers who are new to the programme. This includes the compilation of a teacher induction folder.
The fact that all members of the LCA team express an interest in becoming part that team before the timetable is constructed is a key strength of the LCA team. Teachers are assigned appropriately and teach within their areas of specialism or of special interest.
While the different elements of the programme are in general appropriately timetabled, some areas do require attention. The time allocated to the elective modules—two class periods per week in sessions one and two and three class periods per week in sessions three and four—is less than the three or four class periods in each session that are recommended. While Arts Education is allocated time in sessions one and two, it is recommended that time should also be allocated to this in sessions three and four. The time allocated to the elective modules and arts education modules should be increased in line with the advice of the support service, http://lca.slss.ie/resources/downloads/timetabling.pdf. This should be achieved by re-balancing the timetable while taking account of the constraints imposed by having to meet the timetabling needs of the programme within the thirty-six periods per week available.
Lesson time is appropriately divided into single, double and triple periods to meet the requirements of the courses being offered. Lessons allocated to each of the courses are evenly distributed across the teaching week in line with good practice. The requests of teachers with regard to the timetabling of their respective courses are considered and met where possible. This is good practice.
Good facilities are provided to facilitate the co-ordination of the programme including an office with telephone and a computer and printer. Students have good access to information and communications technology (ICT) and it is also used effectively in organising the programme. Individual computers are installed in the sixth-year LCA classroom. These computers are used by both classes for completion of key assignments and tasks. The school’s computer room is used for teaching the Introduction to ICT course. To further enhance the learning environment for LCA classes it is recommended that the school should examine the possibility of installing a data projector in an LCA classroom. This would provide students and teachers with enhanced opportunities to present material created on computer. Such provision could support the further diversification and differentiation of learning for LCA students while adding to the range of teaching strategies open to teachers.
Senior management is committed to continued support of the programme and sufficient funds are made available to the co-ordinator. Resources are appropriately applied to the programme, in addition to which substantial extra supports, in terms of teaching time in particular, are provided from the school’s own resources. This is acknowledged and commended.
1.3 Student selection and support
The student-selection process for LCA is clear, consistent and in line with the objectives of the programme. Third-year and TY students and their parents are given a presentation on each of the senior-cycle programmes offered in the school, including LCA. Information leaflets, the school’s senior programmes booklet and application forms are distributed. There is a whole-school approach to the identification of potential LCA students. Parents of junior cycle students for whom LCA is the most suitable option visit the school on invitation and the programme is explained to them. Those students for whom the LCA programme is intended are encouraged to apply. Students then apply before the closing date and are called to interview. Following the offer of a place in LCA, students must indicate acceptance in writing by a specified date. An offer of a place in LCA is viewed as an achievement. The positive nature of this approach is commended. The students for whom the programme is intended are availing of it.
The guidance provided for students is appropriate to their needs both as a support to their decision-making regarding choice of senior cycle programme and later as LCA students. The guidance counsellor is timetabled for LCA guidance as part of the Vocational Preparation and Guidance (VPG) course as required by the programme. The guidance counsellor works closely with the VPG teacher, meets the LCA students individually by appointment and provides links to outside agencies where necessary. The guidance counsellor also maintains a special notice board for LCA students and monitors the completion of the students’ work-experience diaries. Provision for Guidance is good.
There are appropriate and very effective supports in place for LCA students with additional education needs and these form part of an integrated whole-school approach. There is very close collaboration between the special educational-needs co-ordinator, the LCA co-ordinator and team. Individual education plans for students are drafted by the special educational-needs co-ordinator as appropriate following meetings with the various interested parties. Every teacher of the student is supplied with a copy of the plan with appropriate discretion being exercised. A second additional education-needs teacher was involved in professional training at the time of the evaluation.
The special educational-needs co-ordinator meets teachers of LCA regularly and monitors students’ progress, including their progress with key assignments and tasks. Short-term interventions are put in place where necessary to deal with the needs of individual students in specific courses. The use of such short-term interventions is a preferred approach to the provision of learning support within the school and it is effective. The learning-support department provides very effective literacy and numeracy supports in junior cycle and this is followed by appropriate ongoing support provision in LCA.
The school’s aim to fully integrate LCA students into the mainstream life of the school is being achieved very successfully. The transfer of students from junior cycle to the LCA programme is supported by effective student induction which includes activities outside school, team building and preparation for effective cooperative and collaborative learning. Links are maintained with the other programmes in the school, in particular with the TY programme, resulting in the organisation of common activities such as trips to outdoor-pursuits centres. This is good practice in helping to meet the social-development needs of the students.
1.4 Home-school links
Home-school contacts are regular and frequent. Specific communications include parents’ written consent for work experience and entries in students’ journals and form letters concerning students’ attendance and application. Parent-teacher meetings are held annually. There is an open-door policy to facilitate parents in meeting course teachers, the co-ordinator or the principal as needed, with due regard for the practicality of appointment times. Annual meetings for parents of each year group, held close to the beginning of the year, include parents of LCA students. Parents receive formal feedback on students’ progress in two reports each year, in February and June, and the LCA session results are posted home. Form letters are used as an early warning to the parents of students who are in danger of losing credits due to irregular attendance or failure to complete key assignments.
Links with the wider community are strengthened through the work-experience programme. The co-ordinator follows the initial contact with standard letters and evaluation forms for the employer to complete and return. The co-ordinator also makes additional contact with the employer to discuss any special circumstances or concerns as needed. Contact is maintained with the employer regarding any matters such as the failure of a student to attend. Each workplace is visited twice per session and the visiting teacher completes a standard report form on each visit. The teachers of LCA undertake these visits. This is good practice and is commended.
There is a current LCA plan which is of a high standard and is integrated into the planning documentation of the school. The written plan consists of two comprehensive documents: the subject plans and the LCA department plan. The first of these documents contains detailed plans for each course. It is commended that these plans include information on the teaching methodologies and approaches in use. The LCA department plan is similarly detailed and includes planning for cross-curricular links and the records of core-team and whole-team meetings. Cross-curricular planning is of a high standard and ensures that the programme can be presented in line with requirements.
The LCA core team works effectively in collaboration with the co-ordinator to plan, monitor and evaluate the programme and to respond to its needs as they emerge. It is representative of senior management and of the various elements of the LCA programme. The inclusion on the core team of a former LCA co-ordinator, now the school’s programme co-ordinator, is good. The core team meets regularly, on a monthly basis, and its members work closely together between meetings. Accurate and complete records are kept of the monthly meetings and are placed in the department plan. Record-keeping within the programme is comprehensive and is of a high standard.
Good practice is followed in facilitating teachers to meet to plan for the programme. The entire LCA team meets once per session. This provides an opportunity for issues of general interest to be discussed including planning for teachers to support students in the completion of their tasks and cross-curricular aspects of the programme. Smaller groups of teachers meet as necessary to deal with shared areas of interest including cross-curricular work. Appropriate collaboration takes place between teachers who provide for the completion of students’ tasks and their team colleagues.
The programme is reviewed and evaluated annually in terms of its objectives. This is good practice. The review is appropriately formalised using a series of short, easily filled questionnaires to gather information from students, parents and teachers, including teachers who are not currently teaching LCA. The views of employers who facilitate work experience, gathered when teachers visit the work places, are also included in the review data. The outcomes of the reviews have influenced the development of the programme.
The school is satisfied that the aims of student retention, attendance and achievement are being met. This follows ongoing evaluation of the programme based on records and experience over the twelve years in which LCA has been offered in the school. When interviewed by the inspector, students showed a sense of belonging and pride in the programme. There is evidence of the development of students’ learning and self-management skills as they progress to achievement in state examinations. The community from which the school draws its students benefits from the programme. Many former students continue to develop their skills in the area of their vocational specialisms, notably in hair and beauty related activities. This has been of benefit locally not just by providing services in the locality but also by allowing the former students to stay in their own community.
The formal programme co-ordinating structures within the school are documented in the detailed descriptions of the roles of both the LCA co-ordinator and the school’s programme co-ordinator, appointed under the terms of Circular Letter PPT 17-02. Co-ordination is very effective. The co-ordinator teaches both LCA classes and maintains close daily contact and good communication levels with all the LCA students. The co-ordinator plays a central role in all aspects of the organisation of the programme, from work experience, to maintaining the LCA notice board, to informing teachers of upcoming LCA continuing professional development courses and to returning session results to the State Examinations Commission (SEC). The co-ordinator is in daily contact with the whole team and plays an active role in the organisation and running of all core-team and whole-team meetings ensuring that decisions are carried out in a thorough and timely fashion.
The school complies with the Department guidelines and circulars regarding the programme. The curriculum is broad and balanced and meets the needs of students. The school has responded very well to the students’ needs and preferences in designing the curriculum. The vocational specialisms, Hair and Beauty and Hotel Catering and Tourism, provide for the development of a range of skills that are in demand in the local community, are of interest to the students and can facilitate entry to Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses and courses sponsored by an Foras Áiseanna Saothair (FÁS) locally. The decision to provide these courses as vocational specialisms was based on the preferences of students at interview. This is very good practice. The provision of science elective modules resulted from the need for students to study this subject for entry to courses in beauty therapy. There are opportunities within the curriculum, in each of the four sessions, for students to develop their ICT skills. This is good provision.
In the current year work experience for LCA students takes place on one day per week on a trial basis replacing the former use of two-week work-experience blocks. The new arrangement is preferred by most students and has advantages for the school. The success of the trial will be comprehensively evaluated as part of the annual review at the end of this year. This again is good practice. Work-experience is an integral, well organised part of the curriculum. Students are prepared for work experience within VPG lessons. The commitment shown by the teachers in their support of work experience is commended.
3.1 Planning and preparation
Planning for the programme is of a high standard. The course plans are in line with the published module descriptors. The taught courses reflect the plans included in the LCA plan. Planning for lessons is very good and this results in coherent, well-paced lessons with clear objectives stated from the outset and on occasion written on the white board. A range of teaching materials, class materials and equipment is prepared in advance as required. ICT is used effectively in the preparation of teaching and learning materials
There is good liaison between the teachers of the programme and the learning-support team in planning for the needs of students. Teachers’ planning takes account of individual-education plans which are developed in collaboration with the special educational-needs co-ordinator. It is commended that this collaborative planning is active in the school.
Planning and preparation provides for differentiated approaches to teaching and learning in line with the range of students’ abilities, needs and interests. The wide range of approaches to teaching and learning meets the diverse learning needs of the students.
It is recommended that the programme team investigates further the use of specific supports for literacy in lessons, such as the display of new words and phrases on the classroom walls, to further strengthen the very good provision for learning support.
3.2 Learning and teaching
Lessons are well structured. Lessons proceed at a suitable pace to provide an appropriate level of challenge while ensuring the engagement of all students. This is good practice. A wide range of methodologies is employed including very good use of group work in some lessons. It is urged that the programme team explores ways in which the teaching methodologies found to be particularly successful in some lessons can be shared with the whole team. Given the very good practice already in evidence, this could be undertaken as part of a staff development day facilitated by the team members themselves.
Students engage well with the various learning activities in lessons. These are structured to provide regular changes of activity to maintain students’ interest. The environment of the classrooms is positive and conducive to learning. There are displays of course-related materials. Interactions between teachers and students are respectful and foster good relationships. Students are enthusiastic, purposeful and cooperative in their work and show positive attitudes to learning.
Teachers regularly interact with individual students, particularly when the classes are engaged in pair or group work. This provides good opportunities for affirmation and encouragement which are often embraced. There is an appropriate level of challenge for students in the work presented to them. Students’ behaviour is based on a negotiated willing acceptance of what constitutes good conduct in class. Discipline is sensitively maintained.
Students’ progress is formally assessed and acknowledged by means of the completion of key assignments. Procedures for recording key assignments in class and centrally at the end of sessions are well established and in line with good practice. Evidence of completion and signed standard recording sheets are passed to the co-ordinator and stored centrally. Completion of key assignments in different modules provides for a range of assessment modes. Teachers ensure that the learning outcomes are appropriate to the levels of ability of individual students.
Less formal assessment of students’ progress is integrated with activities within lessons and is presented naturally, often by means of targeted questions which encourage students to reflect before answering. Students are often encouraged to evaluate their own work positively and constructively. This approach to assessment supports and reinforces learning.
Students’ progress is systematically recorded and shared with parents at parent-teacher meetings and by means of school reports in February and June. Results received from SEC on completion of each session are posted home.
Very good monitoring and recording procedures are in place with regard to students’ attendance. Attendance is scrupulously monitored by course teachers and reported at the end of each session for the award of credits. Class attendance is recorded on an attendance sheet which is filed in the school office. The co-ordinator has a central role in maintaining the attendance file and, together with course teachers, keeping students fully informed with regard to LCA attendance requirement and their performance in relation to this requirement. Attendance is also monitored centrally by means of student swipe cards in the morning and afternoon together with roll calls in the first periods which are electronically stored. Students are required to account for all absences, supplying certification as appropriate. Following five days’ unexplained absence the co-ordinator requests that the deputy principal contacts the student’s home. Standard letters are issued as required drawing attention to the loss of credits due to less than ninety-percent attendance.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very strong support for the programme.
· The processes in place for selecting students for LCA are clear, consistent and in line with the objectives of the programme.
· There are appropriate and very effective supports in place for LCA students with additional education needs.
· LCA students are fully integrated into the mainstream life of the school.
· The LCA plan is of a high standard and is integrated into the planning documentation of the school.
· The LCA core team works effectively in collaboration with the co-ordinator to plan, monitor and evaluate the programme.
· Review and evaluation of the programme in the school are carried out to a high standard and influence the development of the programme.
· Co-ordination of the programme is very effective.
· The LCA curriculum is broad and balanced and meets the needs of the students.
· A wide range of teaching methodologies is employed.
· Procedures for recording key assignments are well established and in line with good practice.
· Very good monitoring and recording procedures are in place with regard to students’ attendance.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· The time allocated to the elective modules and arts education modules should be increased.
· The school should examine the possibility of installing a data projector in an LCA classroom.
· The programme team should investigate further the use of specific supports for literacy in lessons.
· The programme team should explore ways in which the teaching methodologies found to be particularly successful in some lessons can be shared with the whole team.
Published, November 2009