An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Programme Evaluation

Transition Year

REPORT

 

Árdscoil Rath Íomgháin

Rathangan, Co Kildare

Roll Number: 70730J

 

Date of inspection: 29 April 2009

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

Quality of programme organisation

Quality of programme planning and coordination

Quality of learning and teaching

Summary of strengths and recommendations for further development

 


EVALUATION OF THE TY

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

This report has been written following an evaluation of the TY in Árdscoil Rath Íomgháin. It presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the programme in the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors 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 inspectors liaised extensively with the programme co-ordinator and visited classrooms to observe teaching and learning. The inspectors provided oral feedback to teachers on lessons observed. The inspectors 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 deputy principal, the programme coordinator and relevant staff at the end of the evaluation period. 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.

 

 

Árdscoil Rath Íomgháin is a large mixed post-primary school under the auspices of Co Kildare Vocational Education Committee (VEC). The current enrolment is 601 students. In addition to the Transition Year programme the school offers the Junior Certificate, the Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The Transition Year is well established in the school and a successful programme has been running for 14 years.

 

1. Quality of programme organisation

 

1.1 Whole school support

 Very good whole-school support for the TY was evident in the course of the evaluation. The senior management team displayed a comprehensive knowledge of and enthusiasm for the core principles underpinning the programme. The senior management team is clearly committed to the programme and provides every support possible to the programme.

 

The TY programme has a very good profile in the school among students and staff. TY students who were interviewed in the course of the evaluation stated that they were well aware of the programme while they were in junior cycle due to its high visibility in the school. The TY teaching team meets regularly to discuss issues concerning the programme and to plan for its implementation.

 

1.2 Resources

 There are good resources to support the implementation of the TY programme in the school. The TY co-ordinator has access to an office which is equipped with a computer, printer and has broadband access.  ICT is used effectively to organise the programme. TY students have good access to school resources including the computer rooms that have internet access. Some classrooms have televisions and DVD players. It is recommended that a list of generic TY resources be compiled and included in the TY written programme. This would ensure that all staff become aware of all existing resources in the school.

 

Staff are assigned appropriately to the programme. It was evident in the course of the evaluation that teachers teaching on the programme are very dedicated and committed to the principles and ethos of TY. The majority of teachers in the school are available to teach TY. Some teachers have availed of continuous professional development (CPD) courses offered through the second level support service (SLSS). Many teachers consult and use the TY specific resources which are available on the website of the SLSS. This is to be commended. It is suggested that further CPD relating to teaching mixed-ability class groups would be helpful in the context of TY if resources permit.

  

1.3 Student selection and support

 The TY programme is optional in the school.  Great care is taken by the school to ensure that students who will derive the most benefit from TY avail of the programme. All third-year students are given information about the programme in the school and are invited to apply. Prospective students are interviewed by staff. A lot of consultation takes place about students between members of staff to ensure that students take the best senior-cycle option for them. In the current year the vast majority of applicants received places in TY. It is recommended that the school establish the criteria which are applied in allocating the places. In the event of student demand exceeding the number of places available, it is important for purposes of clarity and transparency that admission criteria be available in writing.

 

In the current academic year 37 boys and 11 girls are taking the TY programme. Two class groups have been formed. Inevitably the ratio of boys to girls is much higher in both classes. It is recommended that where possible the school seek to have a greater degree of gender balance in the class formation albeit that the overall proportion of boys to girls is higher throughout the whole school. Given that in other programmes such as the LCVP the ratio of boys to girls is in fact lower the school should consider some research into overall gender issues which appear to affect the uptake of the different curricular programmes in the school.

 

Students are well supported in making the decision to enroll in the TY programme. At the initial information evening a student who has already taken TY speaks about the programme. This is effective practice as it provides a student perspective on TY which is meaningful and relevant for students in third year. The career guidance department also supports TY students prior to and during the year in the form of one to one meetings where required.

 

TY students have an induction day at the beginning of the school year. Many materials produced by the TY support service which are specifically designed for TY induction are used in the school. This is good practice. It could be useful to consider further team-building exercises as part of the TY induction programme in the future. Additional support is provided to students with special educational needs. Each TY class is assigned a tutor. It is recommended that the role of tutor in the context of the TY programme be documented and included in the school’s TY programme. A care team is in place and students who need support are catered for within the remit of this team. The level of support for TY students is highly commended and is very much in line with the school’s mission statement.

 

Guidance is timetabled for TY students for one lesson per week. This is to be commended. The guidance policy is currently under review. It is noted that the TY programme is not referred to in that policy. It is recommended that the good work being carried out by the guidance department be formally documented in the policy.

 

1.4 Home-school links

 Very good links have been established between the parents of TY students and the school. Prior to students commencing the programme parents are invited to complete a questionnaire regarding their expectations of TY. The results of this are then used to inform planning and review of the programme. Seeking parents’ view in this manner strengthens home-school links and is an example of excellent practice.

 

Information meetings are held in the school for parents of students who are in third year to inform parents about the TY programme and other senior cycle options. Meetings are held also in the course of TY so that parents can gain comprehensive information regarding the learners’ progress and participation in the programme. The use of text messages to inform parents of events is another example of good practice in communicating with the parent body. Parents are invited to attend TY events. Formal letters are issued to parents prior to any TY event to ensure that they are kept fully up-to-date on specific arrangements. A calendar for the year outlining special events is issued in advance to facilitate parents. The school prospectus also contains information regarding TY.  It was evident in the course of the evaluation that the management and staff of the school emphasise the importance of building links between the school and parents.

 

 

2. Quality of programme planning and coordination

 

2.1               Planning

 The quality of planning in the TY programme is very good. The TY plan was presented by the school as part of the evaluation. This is a most comprehensive document and provides evidence of the high standard of planning for the programme. The TY plan includes all the individual subject plans. Subject planning in TY is good and includes information on aims, objectives, teaching strategies, lesson content, assessment, resources, links with other subjects and evaluation. In the context of teaching and learning strategies, it is recommended that more emphasis be placed on methodologies suitable for mixed-ability teaching. It is recommended that the cross-curricular dimension across subjects also be further developed.

 

Programme evaluation and review take place in consultation with students, parents and staff. Review processes are both formal and informal and include questionnaires, discussions and meetings. Collaborative review such as this is laudable. It is evident that such review informs planning: for example timetable adjustments and improvements in curricular provision have been made as a result of such reviews.

 

A TY core team is in place. The core team comprises the co-ordinator, the principal and deputy principal. Meetings of the core team take place on a regular basis and very good minutes of meetings are kept. This is commendable. It is recommended that resources permitting consideration be given to expanding the core team to include some other members of staff who have particular interest and expertise in the TY programme. Including other members of staff in the core team would build capacity among teachers with regard to their own expertise in the area of TY. This could be quite beneficial both to individual staff members and to the school in the long term. Consideration could be given to developing the role of tutor in TY to include participation in the core team.

  

2.2 Coordination

 The quality of programme co-ordination in the school is excellent. Formal co-ordinating structures are in place and are operating most effectively. Management has assigned a post of responsibility for the work of co-ordination. A long list of duties is associated with the role of co-ordinator in the school. These include overall management of the programme, processing TY applications, liaison with senior management, staff, parents and students on all matters relating to the programme, co-ordinating calendar events, organising work experience, student attendance and attending to pastoral care issues which may arise among TY students.

 

Very good records relating to all aspects of TY are kept by the co-ordinator. The co-ordinator maintains very good communication with senior management and staff members regarding the TY programme. In the current year the co-ordinator has timetabled class contact with one of the TY groups. To facilitate communication it is recommended that, where possible, the co-ordinator be timetabled with both class groups.

 

2.3 Curriculum

 A very good TY curriculum has been devised by Árdscoil Rath Íomgháin. The four layers, calendar, core, modular and subject sampling, as stipulated in the Department of Education and Science document TY Programme Guidelines for Schools, are all present. The curriculum is broad and balanced and is formed on the basis of the ethos of the TY programme. In addition, the views of parents are sought with regard to curriculum content. The school is commended for the obvious attention to detail in the creation of a dynamic and appropriate curriculum.

 

The calendar events comprise a variety of educationally enriching activities. These include a swimming programme, visiting speakers who give talks on different topics, school trips to various events such as the Ploughing Championship, a ballet performance and the Higher Options Conference. This year the main school tour for TY students was to Italy. The school is to be commended for the variety and organisation of all the calendar events in TY.

 

The core subjects are English, Mathematics, Gaeilge, a modern European language, Information and Communication technology (ICT), Geography and career guidance. Students in TY have the opportunity of sampling a variety of other subjects such as sciences, art, environmental studies, business, music and metal work.

 

Social education forms part of the TY curriculum. Students take part in voluntary community work. They visit a day care centre where they help senior citizens. TY students also play music for the elderly. As part of developing social awareness, the students engage in fundraising activities for charities. Students in TY are given full responsibility for organising sports day in the school. This gives students an ideal opportunity to develop the skills required for organising a big event and for becoming involved in school life. This is praiseworthy.

 

Students in TY are provided with the opportunity of setting up a mini-company as part of the curriculum. This provides the learners with the opportunity of learning how to set up and run a small business. In the course of the evaluation, students talked most enthusiastically about the companies they had set up, products they had made themselves and the success they had had. The mini-company module is very well organised and it was clear students benefited enormously from this experience.

 

Work experience is an integral part of the curriculum in TY. This is well organised to ensure that students maximize the learning opportunity and gain a good knowledge about the world of work. Students have two blocks each of two weeks duration in a work place. Students generally source work placements themselves. Preparation for the world of work is done by the TY co-ordinator. At the end of work placements, employers provide reports about the students. TY students are encouraged to reflect on the experience of the work placement and keep a work diary. Students are asked to rate themselves in terms of their participation and effectiveness. This is good practice as it encourages reflective learning. The work experience module also comprises a career investigation project. This is particularly important given that students will have to make important choices regarding subject options for senior cycle at the end of TY. To develop the ‘world of work’ module further, it is recommended that a cohesive approach be taken, perhaps including the career guidance department and the core team. The world of work module could then be documented to include all the aspects that are currently in place.

 

 

3. Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 Planning and preparation

 Long-term planning for subjects and modules has been referred to in section 2.1 above. In the course of lesson observation it was clear that lessons were well planned in advance. Materials, handouts and other resources for use in the course of lessons had been prepared to a high standard. Planning for effective teaching methodologies and to encourage student autonomy was also evident. It is recommended that, in order to build on this good practice, planning for individual lessons be based on student learning outcomes. In the context of the mixed-ability nature of the student cohort, it is recommended that an increased focus on differentiation underpin lesson planning.

 

3.2 Learning and teaching

 The quality of learning and teaching was very good in the lessons observed. A wide range of appropriate methodologies was evident in the course of lesson observation. In many lessons students were provided with independent learning opportunities. For example in some lessons students were assigned tasks and worked alone on these. Facilitating autonomous learning in this manner is exemplary practice. Pair and group work was also used effectively in lessons. The learners worked together on tasks and learned from one another. During interviews students expressed a great enthusiasm for working in pairs and groups. This methodology is in keeping with the spirit of the programme and is particularly effective in mixed-ability classes. To build on this good practice it is recommended that these and other methodologies suitable for the mixed-ability setting be used more frequently.

 

Best practice was observed where there were short teacher inputs followed by time allowed for students to participate in a short task. In these lessons it was clear that good consolidation of learning took place. Lesson content in all cases was very good and chosen with the interests of the learners as a priority.  Themes such as education, Barack Obama, current global conflicts and well known films formed the basis of lessons. It was evident that learners found the subject matter interesting and enlightening. Handouts were well prepared and materials were used effectively to support lesson content.

 

Students were on task in all lessons observed. The learners engaged very well with the work that was assigned to them. It was evident from questions which students asked and from their level of participation that good quality learning was taking place in many of the lessons observed. It is recommended that all students be encouraged to ask and answer questions in lessons.  In some lessons it was noted that a minority of students were less participative. In order to ensure that all students participate in lessons, it is recommended that teachers make use of targeted questioning. It is recommended that more use be made of differentiated questions in the course of lessons to facilitate students of all abilities.

 

The atmosphere in all lessons was very good. The nature of teacher-student interactions was very positive. Discipline was maintained to a high standard in all lessons observed. Very good rapport was evident between teachers and students. In the course of the evaluation students commented on the positive nature of their relationships with teachers as one of the principal benefits of the TY. The environment in all lessons was conducive to learning. Staff and students are commended for this.

  

3.3               Assessment

 A wide variety of effective assessment methods are used in TY. Students complete assignments, reports and projects in the different subjects and modules. Students are encouraged to undertake self assessment. This is effective practice. TY students maintain a portfolio of work completed throughout the year. Formal assessments also take place. Comprehensive criteria for assessment have been developed to include teacher observation, student participation and fulfillment of potential. The results of assessment and progress reports are issued to parents four times a year, at Christmas, at the annual TY parent teacher meeting, at Easter and in the summer at the end of the programme. When reviewing assessment in the TY programme consideration should be given to increased formal assessment.

 

The school has developed a homework policy which has been revised and ratified by the board of management. It is noteworthy that the policy includes clear guidelines for parents, students and teachers with regard to their respective roles in the area of homework. The partnership approach as reflected in this policy is commendable. It is noted that in the section regarding suggested allocation of time for homework in the different years, TY is omitted from the list. It is recommended that this be reviewed and that an allocation of time for homework in TY be provided.

 

An awards day is held in the school where students’ achievement in TY is acknowledged. In some cases outside certification is presented, for example where students have completed a first-aid course or taken part in a mini company. At the end of the academic year a TY graduation afternoon is held to mark the successful completion of the programme. Students and their parents attend this event to celebrate their achievements throughout the year.

 

 

4. Summary of strengths and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

 

·         Very good whole-school support for the TY was evident in the course of the evaluation.

·         Very good links have been established between the parents of TY students and the school.

·         The quality of planning in the TY programme is very good. Programme evaluation and review take place in

      consultation with students, parents and staff. Collaborative review such as this is laudable.

·         The quality of programme co-ordination in the school is excellent. Formal co-ordinating structures are in place and

      are operating most effectively.

·        A very good TY curriculum has been devised by Árdscoil Rath Íomgháin. The curriculum is broad and balanced and

      is formed on the basis of the ethos of the TY programme.

·        The quality of learning and teaching was very good in the lessons observed. The nature of teacher-student

      interactions was very positive.

·         A wide variety of effective assessment methods are used in TY.

 

As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:

 

·         It is recommended that, where possible, the school seek to have a greater degree of gender balance in the class

      formation in TY.

·         It is recommended that the good work being carried out by the guidance department be formally documented in the

      guidance policy.

·         It is recommended that, resources permitting, consideration be given to expanding the core team to include some

      other members of staff who have particular interest and expertise in the TY programme.

·        It is recommended that subject plans for TY be developed to include more emphasis on cross-curricular planning

      and on methodologies suited to mixed-ability  teaching.

·        In order to ensure that all students participate in lessons, it is recommended that teachers make use of targeted

      questioning and that more use be made of differentiated questions in the course of lessons to facilitate students of

      all abilities.

 

   

 

 

Published, December 2009