An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Applied
Mercy Secondary School
Mounthawk, Tralee, County Kerry
Roll Number: 68070E
Date of inspection: 22 September 2009
EVALUATION OF THE LEAVING CERTIFICATE APPLIED
This report has been written following an evaluation of the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme in Mercy Secondary School Mounthawk. It presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the programme in the school. Senior management was met with during the evaluation process to clarify a number of minor issues in regard to the completed questionnaire and the operation of the programme in the school. The inspector also held a meeting with a small group of students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms to observe teaching and learning and provided oral feedback to the teachers on the lessons observed. The inspector also examined studentsí work and reviewed relevant documentation pertaining to the programme. The outcomes of the evaluation were discussed with the school principal, the deputy principal in charge of curriculum and the programme co-ordinator following the evaluation. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Mercy Secondary School was established in 2001 following the amalgamation of St. Johnís Secondary School, Balloonagh and St. Maryís Secondary School, Moyderwell. The tradition of offering a curriculum that meets the needs of its students extends back to the ethos of the amalgamating schools. The current curriculum contains all the available programmes: the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year (TY) programme, the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the LCA programme. LCA was a component of the curriculum in St. Johnís Secondary School and has continued as an element of the senior cycle programme since the opening of the current school.
1.1 Whole school support
The LCA programme is well established in the school. The schoolís senior management team has a good knowledge of LCA and is acutely aware of its educational benefits. This understanding of LCA is enhanced the by the inclusion of a member of the senior management team LCA core team, who reports at the senior management meetings once a week on LCA. Managementís considerable support for the programme was clearly visible throughout the course of the evaluation.
There is a good whole-school approach to publicising and implementing the programme. Significantly, a good level of information regarding LCA is available on the schoolís website. Prospective students are made aware of the programme through the prospectus and by means of a presentation delivered by one of the LCA students at the annual open-night. Building on this good practice, the school should consider developing a page on the schoolís website similar to that for the TY programme where studentsí activities could be highlighted. LCA is discussed at staff meetings as necessary. Studentsí needs, including any special educational needs, are identified and communicated to the teachers.
It is good to note that links have been forged with the TY programme with the aim of enhancing studentsí learning opportunities. For example, both groups of students have the option to do the Safe Pass course and joint speakers are also occasionally organised.
Teachers of the programme are facilitated to avail of appropriate continuing professional development (CPD). Building on this good practice management should explore approaches to enhance teachersí expertise in teaching and learning strategies that further develop studentsí literacy and numeracy. The schoolís internal expertise, for example that of the special-needs department, might help in this regard.
It is understood that the selection of teachers for participation in the programme depends on teacher interest and subject expertise. This is good practice. Staff is appropriately assigned to teach LCA. Extra teaching resources are applied to LCA as necessary thus enhancing the learning opportunities for the students. While acknowledging that the use of a large teaching team has the benefit of expanding whole-staff understanding of LCA, nevertheless the school should consider the use of a smaller teaching team while developing the core teaching skills necessary to enhance studentsí literacy.†
The school has agreed to make the minor adjustments necessary that will result in all the elements of the programme being appropriately timetabled. ICT is used very effectively in organising the programme and students have good access to ICT, having use of one of the schoolís computer rooms and the language laboratory.
The provision of an LCA classroom is commended. This room should be visually enhanced by the display of photographs of studentsí activities. It is recommended that further ownership of the room be accomplished, for example, by increasing the exhibition of studentsí activities and work, along with the display of the LCA calendar. It is recommended that posters highlighting key terms, in particular when common elements of the programme are being studied, be displayed on the walls of the LCA room.
The development of a school personal-reflection diary is commended. The use of such a diary will assist in the development of studentsí reflective skills in addition to providing a substantial resource for the personal-reflection task.
1.3 Student selection and support
There are specific criteria for selecting students that are in line with the objectives of the programme. Students complete a contract, identifying their subject choices and agreeing to comply with the prerequisites of LCA. This is good practice. Numbers following the programme are uniformly strong at both fifth-year and sixth-year level and targeted students are availing of LCA. The school also reports that the dropout rate from LCA is very small. During the evaluation, school management agreed that the studentsí contract-form should be amended in order to make it clear that parents are not obliged to pay the fee requested for LCA. This is a voluntary contribution to the programme and it was reported that this contribution covers resources for students such as textbooks, calculators and folders. Failure to pay does not militate against studentsí participation in the programme.
Students are given comprehensive and timely support in decision making regarding programme and subject choice for Leaving Certificate. The LCA co-ordinator meets with third-year and TY students to provide accurate and appropriate information and advice on the benefits of following the LCA programme. A complete guide to senior cycle in Mercy Secondary School also provides significant data and guidance.
Students are well supported while following the LCA programme. Studentsí support structures in the school are the same for all students. Year heads, assistant year heads and class tutors have an important role in the care of their students and this includes discipline. However, the structures for LCA have an extra dimension that involves the co-ordinator and core team who have a significant role in supporting studentsí emotional and academic development as they advance through the programme.
A constructive induction programme assists students at the outset. To enhance studentsí understanding of the programme and their responsibilities a short induction programme is held by the co-ordinator in September of fifth-year. This is enhanced by the studentsí participation in the induction course organised by the local institute of technology for all fifth-year students and includes activities such as team-building and communication exercises.
The guidance provided for students is appropriate to their needs. Good links have been developed with the special-needs department. These links are considerably enhanced by the presence of the special-needs co-ordinator on the core team. This is commended. The needs of the whole-school cohort of students, including those in LCA are discussed at the meetings of the special-needs team. LCA studentsí requirements, including literacy and numeracy form elements of their individual plans. This is commended.
1.4 Home-school links
The practice of operating a whole-school approach to the presentation of information to students is commended. Parents are made aware of the nature and purpose of all of the senior cycle programmes offered, including LCA at an information evening. The application form for LCA clearly outlines the structure of the programme, the prerequisites for obtaining credits and the subjects available for selection by the students. Parents are thus informed of and involved in programme and subject selection within the programme.
Communication between the school and the homes of LCA students is good. Commendably, this year the parents of both the fifth-year and the sixth-year LCA students were invited to separate meetings to review the structure of the programme, to reinforce the mandatory components of LCA such as attendance and completion of key assignments and to answer any queries. It was reported that this new initiative was intended to emphasise the partnership nature of the studentsí education and was deemed to be successful. The development of such a strategy to enhance parentsí understanding and knowledge of the programme is commended. It is noteworthy that following these events, the school discussed possible developments that would further enhance the experience of the parents.
There are some examples of inclusion of LCA specific articles in the schoolís bulletins. The schoolís annual report to the parent body, which is available on the schoolís website, also includes information on LCA activities. This is commended as it provides another mechanism for highlighting LCA activities in the school community.
The LCA programme cultivates and maintains good contact with outside agencies, support groups and employers in accordance with the schoolís mission statement which fosters Ďa positive partnership between all members of the school and the wider communityí. Through work experience, for example, the school has forged strong links with its local businesses. Guest speakers sometimes visit the school to address the LCA students and this contributes to the broadening of their learning.
A comprehensive LCA policy statement has been devised in accordance with good practice. This very well-organised policy statement includes significant information pertinent to the successful operation of LCA in the school and contains details regarding for example the studentsí application and selection process, staffing, timetabling and the procedures for managing studentsí behaviour and work. It is good to note that the policy statement contains a section on teaching and learning. Building on this work, it is suggested that teaching and learning methodologies such as those that assist in the development of studentsí communication, literacy and numeracy should also be included. Information regarding the induction programme for students could also be incorporated into the policy statement.
Record keeping regarding the organisation of LCA is of a high standard and is comprehensive. The LCA team is planning to commence the use of Moodle, an ICT package to assist in the organisation of the programme. This initiative is commended.
Planning for LCA is effectively supported and advanced by the core team that meets weekly to plan, monitor and evaluate LCA. It is good to note that minutes of all meetings pertaining to LCA are retained. These will help in building up a history of the programme and a record of decisions made relating to the programme.
Plans for individual modules have been devised. Individual teacher plans have been developed in many subject areas and in many instances this has resulted in the existence of two modular plans for the one subject. While acknowledging the work done in this regard, it is strongly recommended that an overall modular plan for the two years be collaboratively devised in all subjects in accordance with best practice and guidelines from the LCA Support Service.
Learning outcomes are outlined in a minority of modular plans. This is good practice and such an approach should be adopted for all modular plans. It is recommended that in addition to the inclusion of topics, sub-topics, in-school and out-of-school activities, timeframes, resources and teaching methodologies should also be identified for each topic.
While the individual subject plans identify cross-curricular links in the main, how these links are facilitated and further enhanced by appropriate module scheduling and timetabling should be clearly outlined. Studentsí tasks and key assignments facilitate cross-curricular activities. To assist in further exploiting the use of cross-curricular links, it is recommended that the teaching team becomes familiar with the topics included in the modules of all subject areas and the sessions in which they are taught. In this way areas of overlap can be identified and common teaching and learning approaches can be agreed in those areas in order to enhance the consolidation of learning for the students.
The schoolís LCA programme is reviewed on an annual basis during a full teaching-team meeting at the end of each year. There is evidence that programme evaluation and review has had an effect on the planning and delivery of the programme. Building on this good practice, the school should consider involving all participants in the programme, including parents and LCA students in the evaluation process.
The co-ordination of LCA is very good. The co-ordinator works hard to ensure the continued successful implementation of the programme and is ably assisted by the recently formed core team. The co-ordinator and core team have a thorough knowledge of LCA and its implementation. This team meets on a weekly basis and discusses issues such as strategies that would further enhance the operation of LCA in the school. This is commended. Co-ordination duties are clearly outlined in the schoolís documentation.
LCA relevant information is disseminated to school staff. Specific notice boards, one in the staffroom and one in the LCA room, are maintained to disseminate programme information to the teachers and students. These could be used to greater effect. For example, a whole-year planner could be displayed on each board and information added as decisions are made. Photographs celebrating studentsí achievements and work could also be displayed.
The co-ordinator maintains good communications with school management, students and parents. Regular communication with the students is facilitated and enhanced through timetabled contact with the LCA class groups. Resources and facilities are available so that co-ordination duties can be carried out effectively.
The school keeps up-to-date records on studentsí retention levels and maintains data on the progression of students from LCA. This is good practice. Participation in the LCA programme has facilitated the students in devising plans for future progression to further education and the world of work.
The LCA curriculum is broad and balanced and complies with Department of Education and Science guidelines. The needs, interests and abilities of the students are prioritised in the design and implementation of the curriculum. Prior to entry into fifth year, the students who have selected LCA are given an open subject choice from a broad range of courses including three modern languages and a significant number of the vocational specialisms. Subsequently, in line with best practice and with the schoolís policy for all programmes, the modern language, the vocational specialisms and the elective modules undertaken are based on studentsí preferences. The outcomes of the process demonstrate a strong interest in the practically based courses such as Graphic Design and Construction Studies, Craft and Design, Engineering and Hotel, Catering and Tourism. A similar procedure occurs in the area of arts education whereby the students are offered a choice among Music, Drama and Visual Art. This practice of offering an open subject-choice process is highly commended.
In accordance with the schoolís ethos, Religion is an element of the LCA curriculum. Given that the current fifth-year cohort is studying one of the LCA religion modules, it was suggested and agreed that this module would comprise one of the four elective modules for which credits would be claimed. The other elective modules undertaken by the students are Science, Graphic Design and Construction Studies and Engineering.
Students are provided with good support in advance of, while conducting and after work-experience. The schoolís expectation for LCA students to experience different work placements is good practice. Commendably, the support process for work experience is an integral part of the curriculum. Teachers are timetabled to visit the students while at work. The students complete work experience diaries and reflections, and reports are received from employers on completion of the module. The vocational preparation and guidance lessons also enhance learning experiences for students in their work-experience placements. Guidance is appropriately timetabled and offers an additional support to the studentsí work experience. This is commended.
LCA students are afforded many opportunities to develop their information and communications technology (ICT) skills. The ICT specialism and the Introduction to ICT module are studied by all of the students, who have timetabled weekly access to one of the schoolís computer rooms.
Commendably, students are supported in their tasks by different members of the teaching staff. The practical achievement task is undertaken by students outside of school time in line with programme guidelines. The anchor teacher for each task is agreed by the teaching team.
3.1 Planning and preparation
There was evidence of good short-term planning for teaching that included proficient planning for resources in some instances. There were some examples of the effective use of ICT in the preparation of teaching and learning materials. Planning for the integration of teaching methodologies into teaching and learning, including the use of ICT was effective in many instances. In the practical lessons it was clear that planning provided for differentiated approaches to teaching and learning in accordance with the range of studentsí abilities. This is highly commended.
Studentsí preparation and planning for a visiting speaker were good. However all visiting speakers should adhere to the guidelines given by the teacher in terms of their own input and the input from the students in order to provide a learning experience of value for the students.
3.2 Learning and teaching
Many lessons were well structured and their pace was appropriate to studentsí abilities and the task at hand. In some instances the learning outcomes were outlined clearly to students at the outset. This is very good practice as it has the effect of providing very clear guidelines to the students of the learning intentions. It is recommended that this strategy be adopted in all lessons in order to enhance studentsí learning.
A range of teaching methodologies and a variety of resources was effectively used to support teaching and learning. Studentsí interest was maintained effectively when lessons were composed of a series of short activities. In one instance students participated in demonstrating an activity that would subsequently be carried out by the class group. The use of role-play to assist in the development of studentsí interpersonal skills is commended. The team teaching observed in one lesson, was seamless and very effectively employed, in developing lesson content, in promoting studentsí learning and in providing individual support to all students.
In a minority of lessons, key words were written on the board. This good practice should be used in all lessons. In one instance support materials including posters, were very successfully used in promoting studentsí understanding and developing and consolidating studentsí oral language. In this lesson the students were continually encouraged to use the target language. This is highly commended. It is recommended that all lessons include time to develop studentsí understanding of the key terms used. Studentsí use of the dictionary is recommended to enhance the further development of the studentsí literacy. Time should also be factored in for the recapitulation of key terms in lesson planning. A focus on numeracy as appropriate is equally recommended.
Teachers supported students as they worked. Students were co-operative and generally interested in their work throughout lessons. Students responded well and engaged in the lesson in the main. They demonstrated an ability to apply their learning. For example, previously learned skills in Excel were used very effectively to develop the lesson content in one lesson. Activities took place in a positive environment and good teacher-student rapport was observed. Classroom management was effective and discipline was sensitively maintained. Students were affirmed and encouraged for their efforts and contributions.
Studentsí skills and competencies were demonstrated through their abilities to complete tasks. This was clear in the practical lessons where students also demonstrated the ability to follow instructions and work in an independent manner.
Key assignments and studentsí tasks provide evidence of studentsí work and their ICT skills are well developed. The students that were met with during the evaluation demonstrated the ability to communicate with regard to the tasks they were undertaking and had clear views regarding the programme. They also showed a sense of belonging in LCA.
A range of assessment modes is regularly used to assess studentsí competence and progress. These include key assignments, student tasks, questioning in class and formal pre-examinations. The practice of holding pre-examinations is very good as it assists in developing studentsí examination skills in addition to assessing studentsí learning.
The progress and outcomes of students with additional needs is monitored through the normal processes used for all students in LCA. Complementing this practice, the studentsí development in literacy and numeracy is monitored by the special-needs team. This is commended.
The attendance of many students is good. Systematic recording assists in this regard. Students and their parents are informed if the school has concerns regarding an individual studentís attendance. This has been supplemented by, for example, a home visit conducted by the home-school-community liaison teacher prior to this year. The operation of such an early-warning system and the implementation of strategies that counter non-attendance are praiseworthy.
Parents receive meaningful feedback on studentsí progress through the annual parent-teacher meeting and the twice-yearly credit reports. The practice of conducting an analysis of the results of the State examinations in LCA each year is commended.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
∑ The LCA classroom should be visually enhanced by the display of photographs of studentsí activities and studentsí work. Posters highlighting key terms, in particular when common elements
of the programme are being studied should be displayed on the walls of the LCA room.
∑ It is strongly recommended that an overall modular plan for the two years be collaboratively devised in all subjects in accordance with best practice and guidelines from the LCA Support Service.
Published, January 2010
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1†† Observations on the content of the inspection report††††
The Board of management of Mercy Secondary School Mounthawk welcomes this report on the LCA programme in the school and in particular the affirmation of the commitment of management, co-ordinator and staff to the programme.††
The Board notes that the inspector has commended practice in several areas; in relation to the selection of teachers for the programme, links with the Special Needs Department, communication between home and school, record keeping, policy statement, subject option choice, breadth of curriculum, support for work experience etcÖ and in particular new initiatives such as the evaluation meeting with LCA parents and the personal-reflection journal.
The Board is pleased that the report acknowledges the importance of the LCA programme as part of the overall curriculum in the school in providing for the educational needs of all pupils and the Board itself is very satisfied with the success of the programme in terms of retention and onwards educational placement of the pupils who opt for it.† In this regard, the Board judges that it is working to fulfil the Mercy ethos of the school.
Area 2†† Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
Management in Mercy Secondary School Mounthawk is committed to the development of teaching and learning in the school and view the recommendations as a means of building on the strengths of the programme as indicated in the report.†
Subject plans for LCA will be reorganised on a two year modular basis.
A web page for LCA is being developed and plans have been put in place for a rotating display of student work in the LCA classroom and the school corridors.
Building on current CPD provision for LCA teachers, emphasis will be placed on the use of key terms and learning outcomes in class planning and on literacy and numeracy in line with the report recommendations.