An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Applied
Loreto Secondary School
Fermoy, County Cork
Roll Number: 62270F
Date of inspection: 19 September 2008
EVALUATION OF THE LEAVING CERTIFICATE APPLIED
This report has been written following an evaluation of the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme in Loreto Secondary School, Fermoy. 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 studentsí work and reviewed relevant documentation pertaining to the programme, as well as teachersí written preparation. The outcomes of the evaluation were discussed with the school principal and the programme co-ordinators following the evaluation.
Loreto Secondary school, Fermoy has provided a broad education for girls of the town and beyond for over a century and a half. In keeping with its commitment to fully meet the needs of all its students, the school has provided the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme as a fully integrated part of its curriculum for the past ten years. 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.
1.1 Whole-school support
LCA is fully supported by senior management which has a detailed understanding and appreciation of the functioning, aims and objectives of the programme. There is full awareness of the importance of LCA to the school and in particular to the students for whom it is intended. The success of the programme is well supported through the very effective leadership of the principal.
It is commended that LCA is fully integrated into the life of the school. The positive profile of the programme is maintained within the school through the use of the staff notice board and the school intercom to publicise activities. There is an LCA display as part of the school open night and all third-year students and their parents are presented with accurate and complete information regarding the programme. Members of staff who are not currently teaching the LCA programme are commonly involved in verifying and facilitating studentsí practical achievement tasks. Students following the LCA programme are an integral part of their respective year groups in fifth year and sixth year and each LCA class is assigned a class teacher each year and is under the care of the respective year head on the same basis as other senior-cycle classes. The integrated, whole-school approach adopted in the implementation of the programme and in informing students and their parents about the programme is commended.
New members of the LCA teaching team quickly become fully conversant with the programme and full partners in its implementation. In addition to availing of courses provided by the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) appropriate to their respective teaching areas, new members benefit from attendance at LCA team meetings. Although the induction process is to a large extent informal, it is nonetheless fully effective.
The teaching team is drawn from staff members who express an interest in being involved in the programme. This practice is appropriate and enhances the very positive light in which the programme is seen in the school. Hence the morale of the teachers is high. The team is stable and many members have been continuously involved since the beginning of the programme in the school. Typically, one or two new team members become involved each year. The teaching team is dedicated and committed to the success of the programme.
The time allocated to the different elements of the programme is consistent with its requirements. It is suggested, in the interests of clarity and to ensure an adequate time allocation, that the time allocated to the elective modules be more clearly identified. It is further suggested that consideration be given to including modules from the Religious Education course as elective modules, given that religious education is timetabled in both years of LCA.
A significant part of the additional capitation grant has been used to fund activities within the Leisure and Recreation course and, consistent with good practice, the programme co-ordinator has a pivotal role in deciding how the funds available are to be spent.
The provision of dedicated classrooms for both LCA classes facilitates the development of a supportive physical environment for teaching.† Full advantage is taken of this opportunity and a wide range of course-related materials is displayed on the walls. This is commended. Further improvement of the physical learning environment would result from the allocation of a larger room to the LCA 1 class to provide space for a fuller range of teaching and learning approaches, some of which would require more movement and variation of seating arrangements than is possible at present.† It is recommended that a centrally located room or facility be identified for the storage of shared teaching and other resources. This room would ideally be adjacent or convenient to both LCA classrooms.
Information and communication technology (ICT) is very effectively deployed and utilised for the organisation of the programme, particularly by the programme co-ordinator. The generous allocation of time to the Introduction to ICT course provides for very effective use of ICT by the students who each have use of individual PCs in both LCA rooms.† Use of the schoolís computer room, which has broadband access, is provided on request. Other ICT facilities include a digital camera for studentsí use. ICT access for students is very good.
Members of the LCA team are facilitated in availing of opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) and frequently attend appropriate courses. All three members of the LCA co-ordinating team have attended courses on planning and organisation of the programme. In recent years, in-school CPD has been provided for the programme team.† Contact with teachers of LCA in other schools is maintained through formal and informal networks. There is a high level of involvement among the teachers in LCA examination and assessment work with the State Examinations Commission. The encouragement and facilitation of involvement in programme-relevant CPD is commended.
1.3 Student selection and support
Specific criteria are used for selecting the students who will be encouraged to follow the LCA programme. These criteria are clearly laid out in the document LCA Participation Policy. The extent to which the programme is accepted as an integrated part of the school means that teachers, guidance staff and management are vigilant in identifying at the appropriate stage those students for whom LCA is the most suitable option. The target students are availing of the programme as appropriate. LCA in Loreto provides for a range of complementary learning styles and abilities among students, meeting needs which would otherwise not be catered for so effectively. The school is fully aware of its position of care in the community from which it draws its students and this is a source of satisfaction.
An LCA information display is part of the presentation at the schoolís open night. Information is provided for students and their parents, as needed, to support decision-making. In third year, information on LCA is presented at the same time as information on the other senior cycle programme and subject options and a leaflet is given to parents interested in LCA for their daughters. When the LCA is seen by teachers and the learning-support staff as the most suitable senior cycle option for a student, the studentís parents are encouraged to consider this option at the appropriate parent-teacher meeting. These students are advised of the benefits of the programme for them and are given the advantage of comprehensive support by the guidance department and their other teachers in good time to support them in their decision-making.
The arrangements for the transfer of students from junior cycle to LCA are commended. In particular, it is commended that, in addition to their day of induction into the programme, incoming LCA students undertake an induction week together with the incoming Transition Year (TY) students. This is a further indication of the commendable level of integration of students across the programmes offered in the school.
Arrangements for the provision of learning support and resource teaching in the school are well developed and very effectively integrated with teaching provision within LCA. The planning in place to meet the special educational needs of students is commended. Tracking of studentsí literacy and numeracy skills by the learning-support department provides evidence of improvement in these areas of the studentsí attainment due to the success of the LCA programme.
1.4 Home-school links
Care is taken to involve parents in the process of programme choice from the outset. On return of completed applications for entry to the programme, the principal meets the parents to explain how the programme is designed to help the student and to welcome their co-operation in achieving success, including success in achieving the required ninety-per-cent attendance.
The usual means of maintaining contact with parents of LCA students include parent-teacher meetings, the posting home of end-of-term written reports and session results and telephone contact as necessary, as in the case of unexplained absence. In addition, the school maintains an open-door policy which welcomes contact from parents by telephone or in person. Many of the parents are themselves past pupils of the school and it is normal for parents and school to collaborate in the encouragement of high standards of attendance and achievement. Parents are invited and encouraged to be involved and receive meaningful feedback on studentsí progress.
The written LCA plan, which is current and appropriate, forms part of the whole-school plan in line with good practice. The core LCA planning team consists of the co-ordinator of programmes and two LCA co-ordinators. This core team meets weekly to plan, monitor and evaluate the programme. The outcomes of these weekly meetings are recorded in a permanent record book and are shared with senior management. Planning of the programme is of a high standard.
The programme is evaluated by the core planning team, with regard to the achievement of its aims, at the end of each year. The evaluation is conducted with reference to verbal feedback from course teachers, students, parents and the whole staff. Factors such as improved attendance, return to school, improved session results, and the successful career paths of former students are taken into account as positive indicators. The views of current and former students on their participation in programme are also taken as indicators of how successfully the programme is in meeting the needs of students. The programme is modified in response to the outcomes of the evaluations. Science has been introduced as an elective in the current year, in response to the interest shown by many students in enrolling for a PLC course for which science is a prerequisite. The timetable has been expanded to cater for key-assignment writing in Leisure and Recreation and a period has been allocated for support of students undertaking the personal reflection task. The positive effect that evaluation and review has had on the planning and delivery of the programme is commended. It is recommended that a slightly increased level of formality be introduced to the programme evaluation process by means of suitable, brief evaluation forms circulated to parents, teachers and students or by some of the other means of gathering evidence suggested by the LCA support service on their website http://lca.slss.ie/resource_category/view/154.
The programme has, since its introduction to the school in 1999 primarily as a response to the needs of students for whom it would provide a means of continuing successfully to Leaving Certificate, formed an integrated part of the schoolís provision and has been eminently successful in its primary aim.
The school co-ordinator of programmes and two LCA co-ordinators work collaboratively as a team to co-ordinate LCA in the school. The team members have a thorough knowledge of the programme and its implementation. Under the leadership of the team, the spirit of collaboration is characteristic of the LCA teaching team as a whole. Appropriate resources and facilities are available to allow co-ordination duties to be carried out effectively. All members of the co-ordinating team teach both LCA classes and know the students very well. The formal co-ordinating structures in place are working effectively. Co-ordination of the programme is of a high standard.
The school fully complies with the guidelines and circulars of the Department regarding the LCA programme. The programme curriculum is broad and balanced, with vocational specialisms in Childcare/Community Care and Hair and Beauty. Elective modules in Science and Music are studied. The choice of the latter elective fits well with school tradition. The needs, interests and abilities of students are prioritised in curricular design and implementation. The design of the curriculum has been reviewed to meet the changing needs and interests of students. The inclusion of the Science elective in the current year is the latest evidence of the responsiveness of curriculum planning to the studentsí needs.
Work experience, organised on the basis of one day per week, is an integral part of the curriculum. The scheduling of work experience has been reviewed and changed from Fridays to Wednesdays in order to ensure maximum benefit for students, and care is taken to provide fully for preparation and debriefing. The quality of the organisation of work experience is commended. Great care is also taken to develop and maintain close and beneficial links with the local business community to the benefit of the students. Students benefit from valuable experience in a local business office with which close links are maintained. This experience is outside of scheduled work-experience time and is offered, over the full year, for one day per month to five or six students. While this is commended as a welcome enhancement of the LCA experience for the students, it is urged that care continue to be exercised to ensure that it does not impinge on the required time allocated for completion of work in the courses being studied and that the benefit to the students remains paramount.
3.1 Planning and preparation
Planning for LCA in the school is of a very high standard. Planning for the cross-curricular aspects of the programme is very effective as is liaison between the learning-support team and the teachers of LCA.
In the lessons observed, a wide range of activities were well prepared. Explorations using film as stimulus material in an English and Communication lesson involved students working in pairs on worksheets specific to the film clip viewed. In a Childcare/Community Care lesson the students worked in pairs and individually prepared a babyís bottle using formula milk , testing it for the correct temperature. In these, as in each of the lessons observed, preparation for resources was detailed and complete and facilitated coherent, well-ordered lessons. It is clear that preparation for lessons is comprehensive and effective. Preparation for a Mathematical Applications lesson in which students visited a local shop included making contact with the shop owner in advance. Students worked in pairs, alternating the role of shopper and shopping buddy who recorded purchases, using prepared lists and worksheets before returning to class to calculate the outcomes. When ICT was used for teaching, as in a Gaeilge ChumarsŠideach lesson in the computer room, planning for its use was effective. It is recommended, given the existing availability of computers, that consideration be given to increasing the use of ICT for teaching and learning.
Planning for meeting the additional educational needs of students is detailed and collaborative and individual profiles and learning programmes are developed for students as required. Review dates are set for these individual learning programmes when progress is assessed. A team-teaching approach is adopted for the provision of learning support within the LCA class when this is appropriate to meet the educational and social needs of the student. This is commended.
3.2 Learning and teaching
Aims and objectives were made clear from the outset in each of the lessons observed. The† introduction to each lesson was brief and effective. In each case students were quickly engaged, actively making their own contributions in various ways at the teacherís request. At an early stage in each lesson, students engaged in an activity such as brainstorming, sharing what they knew about a topic from previous study, recounting relevant experiences, sharing current news that interested them or they immediately undertook a practical activity. Lessons were well-structured and moved forward at a pace appropriate to the studentsí abilities and to the work being undertaken. This is commended.
Teaching approaches and methodologies were appropriately deployed. Much use was made of pair work and this had a very positive effect on the learning experiences of the students. The studentsí interest was regularly supported by appropriate links being made, where applicable, with their existing understanding and everyday experience. In a Mathematical Applications lesson where students engaged in filling golf cards and making the necessary calculations, the lesson started with their volunteering information about a recent international golf competition in response to an enquiry by their teacher. Actual score cards added realism to the studentsí work. Teaching was very good. †
Students showed enthusiasm and purpose throughout the lessons observed. Co-operation was a hallmark of the interaction between students as they worked. The quality of studentsí answering and of the questions they occasionally asked showed that learning was being successfully achieved.
The atmosphere in lessons was positive and affirming. Students were at ease and secure in a structured environment conducive to learning. Teachersí expectations were consistent with students achieving to the best of their ability. Discipline was freely accepted by the students to whom it was an intrinsic part of the atmosphere of the classroom. The interaction between teachers and students was at all times affirming and encouraging.
The formal assessment of the LCA studentsí work is carried out in accordance with the requirements of the State Examinations Commission. Studentsí key assignments are submitted to the course teacher on completion. Records and evidence of the completion of key assignments and studentsí tasks are kept by course teachers or teachers who monitor and support task completion until the end of the current session. They are then passed to the programmes co-ordinator to be securely stored until after the appeal period has elapsed. The care and attention to detail in the organisation of assessment procedures is commended. The assessment of completion of a key assignment involves students in a degree of self-assessment. Studentsí work is continuously monitored and assessed formatively within lessons. The quality of ongoing assessment in the lessons observed was such that students received regular constructive feedback, often as the teacher moved among them as they worked in pairs or groups. This provided encouragement and affirmation and it was evident that students were growing in self-esteem and confidence as a result. The application of assessment for learning principles is central to studentsí learning in the programme.
There is close monitoring and systematic recording of studentsí attendance, in line with the particular requirements of LCA. Teachers maintain rolls for attendance at the courses they teach, in addition to the school roll. Students are kept constantly aware of the requirement of ninety-per-cent attendance by course teachers. In the event of unexpected absence, the school telephones the studentís home on the morning of the absence. In the event of a student being in danger of losing a credit due to absence, a letter is issued to the parents alerting them to the situation. Attendance is also reported on the end-of-term report. The systematic approach adopted for the tracking and recording of attendance is commended. Also commendable is the use of continuous encouragement of students as a strategy to prevent early school leaving. The LCA team strives to help students enjoy school and gain a sense of achievement. Of particular note is the strategy of encouraging peer support and encouragement of students whose attendance may be a cause for concern. This facilitation of peer leadership has done much to build cohesiveness and general positive attitudes among all the students. The team reports that this approach has been successful in improving the attendance of some students whose poor attendance had been a cause of concern. This is commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ The programme is seen as being very successful and valuable in the school and hence, morale among members of the programme team is high.
∑ The provision of dedicated classrooms facilitates the development of a supportive physical environment for learning and teaching in which a wide range of course-related materials are displayed on the walls.
∑ The encouragement and facilitation of involvement in programme-relevant CPD is commended.
∑ The planning and co-ordination of the programme are of a high standard.
∑ The planning in place to meet the additional educational needs of students and the practice of team-teaching involving course teachers and the resource teacher are commended.
∑ Evaluation and review has had a positive effect on the planning and delivery of the programme.
∑ Teaching of the programme is very good.†
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
∑ A larger room should be allocated to the LCA 1 class to provide space for a fuller range of teaching and learning approaches.
∑ It is recommended that a centrally located room or facility be identified for the storage of shared teaching and other resources.
∑ Given the existing availability of computers, consideration should be given to increasing the use of ICT for teaching and learning.
∑ It is recommended that a slightly increased degree of formality be brought to the gathering of responses within the programme evaluation process.
Published, November 2009