An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Thomastown, County Kilkenny
Roll Number: 70640I
Date of inspection: 15 May 2008
Evaluation of the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme
Grennan College, Thomastown, County Kilkenny
The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) is an intervention designed to enhance the vocational dimension of the Leaving Certificate (established). The LCVP combines the academic strengths of the Leaving Certificate (established) with a new and dynamic focus on self-directed learning, innovation and enterprise. The primary goal of the LCVP is to prepare young people for adult life by ensuring that they are educated in the broadest sense, with an ability to cope and thrive in an environment of rapid change. Participants in the programme are encouraged to develop skills and competencies fundamental to both academic and vocational success. 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.
This report has been written following an evaluation of the LCVP in Grennan College, Thomastown. 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 LCVP coordinator, 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 and the programme coordinator at the end of the evaluation.
Grennan College offers a range of subjects and programmes to its cohort of students: the Junior Certificate; Transition Year (TY); the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The college also offers a programme of Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses including computers, horticulture, equestrian studies and receptionist studies. Such courses are a very useful resource for the community. Currently, there are 219 students on the college’s enrolment: 102 girls and 117 boys. The number of students coming into first year has increased steadily over the last three years to forty-seven in September 2008. The college draws its student intake from Thomastown itself, as well as from surrounding primary schools in its rural hinterland. The school has offered the LCVP since the programme was introduced into an expanded Leaving Certificate range of options in 1994.
1.1 Whole school support
School management is commended for the allocation of resources to ensure the successful implementation of the many aspects of the LCVP. Due to the small size of the school and teaching staff, the team of teachers involved in implementing the LCVP remains fairly constant from year to year. The LCVP programme, as delivered in Grennan College, is implemented collaboratively by members of the whole teaching team: the coordinator; the guidance service; the learning support team and the teachers of English; the Information Technology (IT) teacher; the teachers of the Vocational Subject Groupings (VSGs), such as Home Economics, Design and Communication Technology (DCG) or Engineering, the modern language and the business departments. In this context, the need for school-based, whole-school training in LCVP was articulated during the course of the evaluation and should be considered by school management in the future.
Cross-curricular work is an important aspect of the LCVP and the commendable practice of different members of the teaching staff assisting with specific LCVP activities and events was very much in evidence. Examples of cross-curricular input include the following: the guidance service assists students in carrying out the career investigations module; the science department has contributed in the area of health and safety in the workplace; teachers of Business have helped with enterprise education; the IT teacher contributes to the refinement of word-processing skills; the English and learning support teachers help with literacy and improving writing and reporting skills. This level of collaboration and cross-curricular work is highly commended, as is the awareness among teachers of the VSGs of the objectives of the programme.
The coordination of LCVP is assigned as a post of responsibility, together with responsibility for health and safety, and has a time allocation of two hours. The present coordinator has been in place for the past five years. The coordinator has attended two in-service courses on LCVP in the past two years, and school management is commended for facilitating attendance at available in-service. This has provided guidance in relation to the practicalities of delivering the programme and assisted the coordinator in the successful coordination of the programme. The effective fulfillment of the coordination role has brought cohesion and commitment to the implementation of the programme.
The additional teacher allocation for LCVP is deployed to facilitate adequate coordination time, to offer as wide a choice of subjects as possible and, therefore, to be of benefit to senior cycle students overall. The allocation of time to programme delivery goes some way to ensuring, in the first place, adherence to programme objectives. Link Modules classes are currently allocated two single periods in fifth year and in sixth year. This is one period less than the syllabus guidelines. However, two periods a week are assigned to computer studies which augment the time needed for the development and enhancement of the students’ information and communication technology (ICT) skills, a core objective of the programme. In this way, the school has tailored the time allocation to the programme to best meet the needs of its total student cohort.
Different factors, including student numbers, subject choices and VSGs chosen impact on the timetabling of the Link Modules. Where it has been possible to have concurrent timetabling of Leaving Certificate Business and the Link Modules, this has facilitated the possibility of the deployment of the Business teachers in clarifying understanding of the more complex of the Business concepts required of students in the course of the Enterprise module. It is therefore recommended that school management tries to ensure that the Business department can be deployed in the programme to ensure that LCVP students have regular and frequent access to the specialist expertise and environment of Business.
Students not taking a Leaving Certificate language are provided with a module in French or German. It is praiseworthy that certification in the ab initio language module in the form of a Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) award is available to these students. However, the number of periods assigned per year to the language module is not sufficient to meet programme requirements or to ensure adequate competence in the language after two years. School management is aware of this and is strongly urged to address the allocation of the additional time required for the coming year. Students pursuing a school-based language module are required to have one period per week in that language over the two years of the programme.
Funds are provided for LCVP by school management on request and on a needs basis. The school-owned minibus provides the necessary transport for out-of-school visits to colleges, open days and outings. The main difficulty encountered by the school relates to the small pool of resources which are available in the community to meet the work experience and work shadowing needs of the students of both LCVP and TY. This has been addressed by the LCVP team as a result of their annual review. A possible solution to securing work placements for three days instead of five days has been piloted successfully in the current year. The team is praised for its proactive and solution-driven approach.
1.3 Student selection
School management, in endeavouring to accommodate the diversity of its student needs and wishes, makes every effort to accommodate student preferences in relation to subjects and programmes. The school’s criteria for the selection of students to the LCVP are inclusive and student centred. When students have chosen their subjects, those who meet the criteria for participation in LCVP are afforded the opportunity and are encouraged to participate in the programme. Students who teachers consider would benefit from the programme are encouraged to choose it and the advantages of the LCVP are highlighted. Two-thirds of the total student cohort may be eligible and a half actually takes on the programme. This is praiseworthy and would not happen without the commitment of senior management and staff to the programme and their conviction of its value. The vocational orientation of the programme is recognised by the school community to be of real benefit to the students.
Participation in the LCVP remains fairly consistent from year to year. There are seventeen students in the sixth-year group and twenty-five in the present fifth-year group. As TY is optional, students in third year and TY are given careers advice simultaneously. During TY, students are involved in fund-raising activities and projects, and begin the process of self-directed learning. Therefore, TY students are considered ideally placed to continue on to the LCVP, which a number of students do. From discussions with students and teachers, while acknowledging the workload involved in meeting deadlines in the completion of tasks and portfolio items, it was clear that those students who chose LCVP were committed to programme objectives and programme completion. This is highly commended.
There are many aspects to the programme which attract students for different reasons. As articulated by teachers in the course of the evaluation, some students see the LCVP as a back-up subject for additional Central Applications Office (CAO) points; students who do not study Irish or newcomer students can take the Link Modules as an extra subject; some students particularly value the practical, vocational skills development dimension to the programme. All such applicants are accepted onto the programme. The reasons cited by students themselves for opting for the LCVP included: the possibility of gaining extra points; the involvement in projects and enterprise activities; the focus on careers investigations and work experience. LCVP students form part of the mainstream established Leaving Certificate groups and come together as a distinct group for links modules lessons and associated activities.
1.4 Home, school and community links
A number of links have been established with local businesses and enterprises, such as with the catering industry, the manufacturing industry or voluntary organisations. The links established through LCVP with the community have raised an awareness of the college and its students. The coordinator makes contact with the employer, visits some of the work placements and makes telephone contact with all employers in the course of work experience. The employers also write a report for the school on completion of the work experience. Thank you letters are sent to employers by both the school and the student. The process, as outlined and documented, is thorough and professional. This ensures that good relationships with community businesses and voluntary agencies are developed and sustained over time.
One of the most effective aspects of the programme, as identified by the LCVP team and school management, is the enhanced community spirit between the school, parent and student. At present, parents are involved in helping with activities, in sourcing employment and in transporting students to and from work experience. Through the coordinator, the school keeps in touch with parents about work experience, checking regarding attendance, punctuality, dress code and concerns of parents or students when on work experience. The LCVP team is currently pursuing the worthwhile objective of finding ways to optimise the involvement of parents in the implementation of the programme and this should be further explored and pursued by the coordinator and school management.
1.5 Supports for students
A team approach is adopted to the provision of learning support, which is available to students who are in need of additional support. Where literacy needs are identified or are still required by students in fifth year, the aspect of the programme where the student needs most support is identified. The learning support teachers then liaise with the relevant subject teachers and support is provided in the subject areas identified. The learning support team was of the view that the format of LCVP actually helps students with SEN. In relation to work placement, the LCVP team holds a case conference for individual students with additional educational needs. This is commendable. Supervised study provided by the school, and the school’s homework policy also give direction and parameters to all students. A study skills and examination preparation booklet prepared by the guidance service is a useful aid to both students and parents.
The success of the LCVP relies on the effective teamwork of the individual contributions of teachers within the school. To achieve this, the coordinator liaises with a number of key groupings involved in the programme on an ongoing basis: the guidance service; the learning support department; the IT and Business departments; the teachers of the VSGs and the modern language department. This requires both interpersonal and organisational skills and the coordinator is commended for the quality of the coordination. Liaison with employers, visiting speakers and community groups, as well as with parents and students is also a crucial and ongoing dimension to the coordinator’s work. The teamwork which results from students and staff working together on projects, activities and events enhances the effectiveness of the programme for students.
The coordination of the LCVP involves engagement in an extensive number of administrational, educational and organisational duties: organisation of work experience; organisation of visits out, visiting speakers and presentations; preparation of digital copies for portfolio work; preparation of requirements for state examinations; management of activities and events; organisation of the Safe Pass course and promoting the programme with TY students and their parents, in conjunction with the guidance department. The school has made a range of resources available for the fulfillment of these duties. These include access to phone and secretarial assistance; use of the principal’s office when required and access to the computer room.
There are two planning meetings per year for the LCVP team. There are written agendas for the formal meetings and minutes are also kept. Informal meetings take place weekly, with frequent liaison between teachers in relation to LCVP activities, events and portfolio items. The records kept by the coordinator include employers’ reports of work experience, parental permission slips for activities, examination results, reports on activities, portfolio items and records of team meetings.
A subject plan for the Links Modules was presented and examined at the time of the evaluation. This sets out the aims and objectives for the modules. There is also a useful checklist for portfolio items. The development of a more detailed plan for the implementation of the LCVP is recommended. This should be completed incrementally and should record for the wider school community the richness of the learning experiences provided by the programme. For example, for each of a variety of activities to be carried out, the plan could list the time allocated to the activity; the specific learning outcomes on the syllabus that are being addressed; the core student activities involved; the methodologies to be used and the modes of assessment to be used. Dates for the completion of all the items which the students will prepare for their portfolios could also be included in the plan.
Planning documentation for the language module is good and is set out in terms of communicative language skills, grammar and cultural awareness, with an emphasis on personal information and communication in a social setting in the target language. The plan also includes communicative objectives, articulated in terms of can-do statements. This is commendable.
Students qualify to follow the LCVP through a variety of VSG combinations; combinations involving Business, DCG, Engineering, Construction Studies, Biology, Art and Home Economics. The work in the area of careers and career investigation in the course of LCVP reinforces for students the links between subjects and the vocational links within the VSGs. In this way, one of the core objectives of the LCVP is being achieved effectively. Teachers reported that the skills acquired from participation in LCVP transfer to the practical work of their subjects.
Students carry out a range of enterprise activities as part of their programme of study. Examples of such activities include the planning and running of a gourmet restaurant evening; fund raising for charity; planning and managing visits of guest speakers to the classroom; running a soccer league and visiting local enterprises. Students interviewed particularly highlighted the benefit of working in teams when organising enterprise activities and appreciated the opportunity such activities provided to work with peers who were in other subjects and class groups. There are plans to build on the achievements and experiences in enterprise to date by compiling recipes in calendar form, using archival photographs of the school, of the town and surrounding area. This is praiseworthy as it draws on the strengths already identified and is unique to the school and its students.
As well as providing students with opportunities for teamwork and with hands-on experience, these activities provide the basis for preparing reports, diaries and other material for their personal portfolios. This good practice is very much in keeping with the ethos of the LCVP. All core portfolio items are addressed as part of the curriculum. In relation to the portfolio items, all students do three core items: the curriculum vitae (CV); Career Investigation and My Own Place. Two optional items, a diary of work experience and an enterprise report, are also addressed within class and through LCVP activities. Completed portfolio items are carefully stored in the school.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the programme identified by students was the work experience. All LCVP students participate in a work experience for at least three days. Each student tries to get his or her own work placement. Having to do this helps them develop initiative but they do have the support of the school. A skills audit of students is undertaken prior to work experience. The guidance service contributes in terms of preparation of students for the career investigation and, in particular, their skills, qualities and career suitability. One-to-one career advice and advice on subject options is also given and this is commendable. Their career investigation has been initiated by the student, college courses have been examined, CVs prepared and letters of application written. The work placement then provides students with a good foundation for completion of their career investigation. The guidance service also helps with the debriefing of students after work experience. The forms for employers provided by the LCVP coordinator not only ensure feedback but also structure the comments of the employers.
All students attend at least three open days. Visits to institutes of technology and third-level colleges, including careers’ exhibitions, are organised. When students visit colleges for open days, they prepare a set of questions the answers to which they find out in the course of the visit. This is a good approach.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
The LCVP coordinator and teachers are to be commended for their team approach and their willingness to try new approaches and methodologies to effectively meet the needs of their student cohort. Teachers ensured both student engagement and development of knowledge and skills.
3.2 Teaching and learning
The content of the lessons observed was appropriate. In one lesson observed, a market research test conducted in supermarkets by Coca Cola was simulated and conducted. Each student was required to taste the three colas and record and report their response. This was a simple exercise to illustrate the basic principles of food market research. The results of the class test confirmed the results of the actual market survey conducted. The marketing situation which pertained at the time was then outlined and provided the context for the market research. The terminology appropriate to theme was introduced in an interesting way. Further reinforcement of the terms could be ensured by requiring students to apply the newly acquired knowledge in a follow-up pair or group work activity. Students mentioned that working in pairs or small groups is a regular feature of their links modules classes and this would have been appropriate on this occasion.
Both the approach and the content of lessons observed were designed to meet the identified needs of the particular cohort of students. For example, the learning of unfamiliar business and enterprise terms and concepts was of particular importance to the students, who in the main were following a VSG combination of DCG and Engineering. Sufficient time required by students to prepare for the case study, which can be perceived by students as challenging, was also being allocated in their links modules classes. Appropriate to the time of the evaluation, a case study was distributed to students to examine and to develop strategies in relation to case studies. Good interest and application were displayed by students.
Christmas tests, mock examinations and employers’ reports all contribute to the assessment of students throughout their participation in the programme. Students appreciated the fact that the portfolio work was based on continuous assessment, while acknowledging that the LCVP activities and preparation of portfolio items were time consuming. When monitoring students’ portfolio work, teachers follow through with students to ensure that all identified mistakes are corrected. Ultimately, responsibility for the quality of the completed portfolio work lies with the student. In relation to the portfolio items, students prepare a variety of items and choose the best for inclusion for assessment. The results achieved in the state examinations include a majority of passes and merits from year to year.
Some students expressed the wish to have the possibility of completing their portfolio by the end of fifth year but acknowledged the quality of the final portfolio items was better after two years. Some very good student work was in evidence in the portfolios examined at the time of the evaluation. Regrettably, errors in lay-out, spelling and presentation, observed during examination of student work in preparation, lessened the overall quality of some of the portfolio work. On the positive side, the individuality of the My Own Place items prepared by students was excellent, with clarity of photographs, good use of maps and with attractive lay-out and presentation. Good diaries of work experience were also examined.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
A review of the programme is conducted by the LCVP coordinator, in conjunction with the principal, deputy-principal, the guidance service and team of teachers. Senior management does not conduct a formal analysis of the examination results for LCVP, but was satisfied that additional points gained through achievement in the Links Modules have helped students to access college places. Students interviewed were convinced of the benefit of the LCVP and that it would help them achieve their career, study and life aspirations. A formal review of the programme, including attainment in state examinations, is recommended. This should be conducted annually to inform programme planning and implementation. Destination tracking of past LCVP student careers and further education direction would also provide reliable data on the successful outcomes of the programme for students.
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
The LCVP has impacted on the school in different ways. IT equipment was acquired initially. There has been a reported improvement in the standard of presentation of reports, design briefs and case studies in practical subjects as a result of student participation in the programme. The principal benefits identified by senior management have been in student outcomes, development of skills and the value of work experience. The additional teacher allocation helps in allowing a lower pupil-teacher ratio.
The inclusion of the LCVP on the school curriculum has contributed to the positive profile of the school in the community and improved the prospect of future employment for students as a result of their work placement. The value of the LCVP was appreciated by the students interviewed during the course of the evaluation.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
Published November 2008