Mitchelstown, County Cork
Roll Number: 71040M
The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme is part of the expanded senior cycle provision designed to cater for the diversity of studentsí needs. Its fundamental goal is to prepare students for the transition from education to the adult and working life, and to develop studentsí literacy and numeracy skills. The underlying principle of the programme is the personal, social, vocational and educational development of students. In addition, students are afforded the opportunity to enhance their self-esteem, and to develop their communication and decision-making skills. Cross-curricular integration is central to the structure of the programme and to the studentsí learning experiences. Assessment of studentsí ongoing progress is a significant element of the programme and is facilitated through satisfactory completion of modules and students tasks. Final external examinations complete the assessment process. †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.
This report has been written following an evaluation of the LCA in St Fanahanís College, Mitchelstown. 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, with 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, the deputy principal, the programme co-ordinator and members of the teaching team following the evaluation.
St Fanahanís provides a broad second-level education for boys and girls from Mitchelstown and its surroundings. In addition to the LCA, Junior Certificate and established Leaving Certificate programmes, the school also provides the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and a number of Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses. This breadth of programme choice, catering for diversity, is commended. LCA has been running in St Fanahanís since 1997. A total of forty-three students follow the programme, twenty-four in two class groups in year one and nineteen in year two.
The level of whole school support for LCA is applauded.. The principal shows a deep knowledge and understanding of the LCA and is committed to its continued development. The level of communication between management and the programme co-ordinator is commendable. The programme is valued by the school as a means of building confidence in students while retaining them at school while they undertake challenging work within their abilities. This positive view of the programme, held at all levels, is central to its being well supported.
The morale of the programme teaching team is high and its shared commitment to meeting the needs of the students is strong. Students entering the LCA programme are usually very well known to the programme team and provision for their needs, including their special educational needs, continues into senior cycle. In the case of students who enter St Fanahanís at this stage, records are sought from their previous schools and this information is passed to the LCA team, provision being made in accordance with accepted practice.
General awareness of the programme in the school is good. Its importance to the school is widely acknowledged at all levels, which supports the confidence displayed by the programme teaching team in the course of the evaluation.
Reports on the schoolís LCA programme are, commendably, presented and discussed at all staff meetings, at the beginning of the school year and thereafter on the first Wednesday of every month. The time available at staff meetings to deal with the business of LCA is short given the breadth of issues to be covered. Many of the staff teach the programme, which further reinforces whole-staff awareness. It is recommended that awareness be further deepened my means of continuous professional development (CPD) for the whole staff, clarifying the rationale for the LCA programme and how success can best be achieved in its implementation. The expertise of the co-ordinator and the experienced LCA team would be a valuable asset in providing such CPD.
LCA teachers are informed of the dates of CPD sessions appropriate to their own areas of involvement. In most cases teachers decide to avail of these opportunities, particularly when they are new to teaching the particular course, and this is commended. To derive maximum benefit from CPD, it is recommended that a plan be developed for availing of the CPD provided in each area of the LCA curriculum and, where appropriate, that opportunities be provided for sharing of the insights and knowledge gained with the wider LCA team back in school.
New teachers are inducted into the programme by the co-ordinator. They are introduced to the concepts involved in the delivery of the programme such as key assignments, tasks and sessions and made aware of relevant CPD that is available. Such induction should be extended to cover discussion and sharing with the existing LCA team of the most effective teaching methodologies and strategies to be adopted. The opportunities presented at the regular staff meetings for widespread consultation with the whole staff are valuable.
While some teachers are assigned to teach the LCA programme when this might not be their first preference, all members of the LCA teaching team show high levels of dedication, enthusiasm and commitment to the delivery of the programme. It is vital that all teachers continue to be provided with appropriate support, CPD and encouragement to make their experience professionally and personally fulfilling.
Timetabling, excluding work experience, within the thirty-two periods available per week places a major strain on the allocation of sufficient time to each course and module. While the available periods are fully assigned, the areas of Vocational Preparation and Guidance, Social Education, Arts Education and the Science elective are allocated less than the time advised. The inclusion of Religious Education for one period in LCA 1 and two periods in LCA 2 further diminishes the number of periods available. It is essential that the timetable be reviewed with a view to meeting the minimum requirements of each of the modules. The core team may involve itself with the co-ordinator and the principal in considering solutions such as those in Suggestions for Timetabling on the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) website, http://lca.slss.ie.
Students have access to ICT throughout the four sessions, while undertaking the Introduction to ICT modules. Students are facilitated in completing elements of tasks and key assignments during this time and good cross-curricular links are made. Teachers also request the use of the ICT room as appropriate to the course being taught. It is urged that thought be given to the provision of separate ICT facilities for the immediate use of the LCA students, perhaps in the classroom most often used by them. Consideration might be given to a small number of networked PCs with access to printing, perhaps laptop computers or a trolley system accessing the schoolís wireless network. It is commended that the ICT facilities in the resource teacherís room are available for students and good use is made of these.
While funding for LCA is not currently recorded as a separate heading in the overall school budget, requests for resources through the school office are dealt with individually, usually by being granted. There is an opportunity for increased involvement of the co-ordinator and the LCA core team in planning for the development of the resources for teaching the programme. Teachers of each course should be encouraged to plan for the improvement of resources specifically for the LCA programme and lists of desired equipment should be submitted for the consideration of the co-ordinator and the principal to determine priorities for the further improvement of resources. It is commended that shared resources are stored centrally in an area identified for this purpose.
The LCA programme is targeted at those students who will benefit most from it, particularly those who would otherwise be unlikely to remain in education. While parents are involved in the programme choice process, it is recommended that the level of their involvement be reviewed to ensure that they are involved to the greatest extent possible. It is commended that appropriate flexibility is exercised early in session 1 to allow students the possibility of reconsidering their choices.
The programme is successful in attracting those students for whom it is intended. The involvement of the guidance counsellor as programme co-ordinator provides very good additional opportunities for full support of students in their decision-making concerning involvement in LCA.
Contact with parents is maintained through annual parent-teacher meetings, individual and group meetings with the year master or principal as needed. The studentsí journals, which are signed each week at home and checked by the year master also help to †maintain a well structured, consistent means of communication with parents. The recent addition of the position of home-school-community liaison (HSCL) co-ordinator has the potential to enhance communication with the parents of students in LCA. The HSCL co-ordinatorís close association with the LCA programme, as year head to one of the classes, can be of great benefit. However, it is important that the separate roles should be carefully defined with reference to LCA and included in the LCA programme plan.
It is recommended that the effective strategies already in place for maintaining contact with parents be reviewed, with a view to helping parents enhance their knowledge of the particular structure, aims and practices of LCA. Organised events, such as open nights or awards ceremonies would help in this context. Where such opportunities are identified, it is recommended that they be developed and recorded in the LCA plan. It is commended that parents are invited to attend LCA events.
Many of the students entering LCA, which usually comprise almost half the year cohort, have completed JCSP in the school and are well known both to each other and to their teachers, easing their transfer to senior cycle. It is recommended that specific time be set aside at the beginning of session one for a prepared induction programme as described on the LCA support service website at www.slss.ie.
Guidance, appropriate to the needs of the students, forms a central part of the programme. The close association between guidance provision in the school and the LCA programme provides extra opportunities for guidance in the day-to-day experience of the students although the time allocated for guidance, within Vocational Preparation and Guidance, is less than advised.
Studentsí needs, including their special educational needs, are identified by subject teachers, the LCA co-ordinator and the resource and learning support teachers. It is commended that supports for the special educational needs of students in LCA follow on from junior cycle. The use of set forms, prepared by the learning-support team in the school, to bring the needs of individual students to the attention of the learning-support team and the programme co-ordinator, is commended. Such needs are communicated to the rest of the programme team. While the effectiveness of this communication is commended, it would be further facilitated by regular meetings of the core team, which would provide a forum for discussion and planning of the most effective responses to studentsí needs.
The learning-support team works very effectively and monitors progress of students in their care, including LCA students. The team meets regularly and often. Close contact is maintained between the learning-support team, the LCA co-ordinator and course teachers. Each of the three LCA classes benefits from a special needs assistant which, together with a lower ratio of teachers to students, helps to provide appropriately for the needs of all the students. Without formal testing of students in LCA, the learning-support teachers monitor their progress on an ongoing basis and this is commended. Learning support is usually provided by means of withdrawal from Gaeilge or French. It is recommended that the possibility of providing learning support within the classroom, in the context of team-teaching involving learning-support and course teachers, be explored. Such an approach has merit, particularly as it does not involve withdrawing students from classes from which they may wish to benefit.
The programme co-ordinator, appointed under the terms of DES circular PPT 19/02, is responsible for the co-ordination of the LCA programme and the LCVP. The co-ordinator has a thorough knowledge of the LCA programme and its implementation and takes responsibility for a full range of duties. These duties include the organisation of work experience, the creation, recording and maintenance of records relating to studentsí achievement and attendance, liaison with the Department in all matters pertaining to LCA and timetabling for LCA task interviews and mock examinations. The co-ordinator also informs teachers of relevant in-service opportunities and notifies them of relevant curricular changes.
Effective communication is maintained with management, staff and students and facilitated by the programme co-ordinator, supported by a notice board specifically for LCA. All relevant information is efficiently disseminated to school staff. A commendable outcome of this level of communication is the positive support that the programme enjoys in the school. The school celebrates the work of LCA students effectively at ďhigh profileĒ occasions (such as a meal for the whole school prepared by session 2 students) and by advertising or displaying studentsí work around the school.†
The school provides comprehensive information and advice on the programme for all parents, beginning with an information night towards the end of third year when the options available to students in senior cycle, LCA or established Leaving Certificate, are presented. Students are offered advice, taking account of their strengths and abilities, on the more suitable programme for them to follow. Individual meetings with parents are arranged where necessary, students are made fully aware of the LCA and both parents and students are given accurate and appropriate information before making choices.
Provision for the work of the programme co-ordinator is effective and indicates a commendable level of support within the school. Resources and facilities include access to administrative support and a photocopier, and an office with telephone and internet-enabled computer with printer.
The programme co-ordinator teaches each of the LCA classes and is ideally positioned to maintain close contact and rapport with all of the students involved. This is a major strength of the programme and contributes greatly to its overall cohesiveness and success.
Planning for the programme is effective. Minutes of LCA team meetings are kept by the co-ordinator and there is clarity of purpose among the whole programme team. The planning to meet the special educational needs of students is commended. However, the current planning practice could be made more accessible to the whole school, and regular review of the programme could be more effectively supported by the development of a written programme plan which could be updated in response to changes as they occur. In addition to a written record of each course and other pertinent information such as the programme mission statement, the plan should include such material as the nature and scheduling of cross-curricular work, specific measures being taken to improve literacy and numeracy, the most suitable teaching and learning methodologies, including their applications and implementation, and other content pertinent to LCA.
The work of the programme planning team, consisting of the principal, programme co-ordinator and the resource teacher, is commended. This core team should meet formally on a regular basis and include one or two LCA teachers in addition to the present membership. These extra members should rotate annually. The core team should continue to consider all areas of the organisation and operation of the programme, review progress, consider any LCA-related issues as they arise and enhance the sense of identity and ownership of the whole programme team. The core team should also lead the development of the programme plan, with all members of the programme team contributing. It is urged that LCA programme planning be included in the process of school development planning (SDP) in the school, leading to the integration of the LCA plan into the school plan. It is recommended that the time allocated for the co-ordination of LCA be increased, if necessary, to facilitate meetings of the core team.
The school complies with Department guidelines and circulars and provides a broad and balanced programme for the LCA students. The needs, interests and abilities of students are prioritised in curricular design and implementation. Decisions regarding the courses to be offered are influenced by the preferences of students, within the constraints of teacher availability, in line with best practice. It is commended that a choice of vocational specialism has been provided, where the number of students made this feasible.
Students undertake work experience one day per week. This arrangement is working well, to the satisfaction of the school, the programme team and the students. Work experience is very well integrated into the programme. Placements are organised, with commendable thoroughness, by the co-ordinator who meets with each student at the beginning of the session to discuss possibilities. In some cases the students will already have particular placements in mind and these are considered. Before and during the placement the co-ordinator maintains contact with the employer.
The LCA programme being taught was consistent with the respective module and course descriptors and the close liaison between the learning-support team and the programme teaching team as a whole resulted in very good provision for the needs of all students.
Planning and preparation generally provided for differentiated approaches to teaching and learning in accordance with the range of studentsí abilities, needs and interests. Planning for the integration of appropriate methodologies into teaching and learning, including the use of ICT, was also generally effective. Occasionally the approach to teaching had moved towards too great an emphasis on preparation for examinations. In these cases teachers should re-focus lesson planning on the use of a broad range of teaching methodologies and participant-centred learning in line with the underlying principals of LCA. Where, very occasionally, the approach to teaching had moved towards too great an emphasis on preparation for examinations, it is urged that teachers re-focus lesson planning on the use of a broad range of teaching methodologies and participant-centred learning in line with the underlying principals of LCA. There was some evidence of the use of ICT in the preparation of teaching and learning materials and this is affirmed. It is urged that such use of the available resources be increased, both to take full advantage of the efficiencies to be gained and to encourage greater use of ICT by the students. †
Evidence of careful lesson planning and appropriate preparation was apparent. Lessons were well structured and developed in a coherent manner. Planning for the availability and use of appropriate resources was effective. The teaching methodologies applied and observed in use often actively involved students in a variety of activities including a formal meeting related to General Education Task in Arts Education, practical realisation of studentsí individual design projects in Graphics and Construction Studies and, in Vocational Preparation and Guidance, group work to prepare a visual presentation. These activities, together with the diverse learning opportunities presented to students in the other lessons observed, were carefully prepared and presented. The range, suitability, planning and preparation of the teaching and learning approaches taken are commended.
Lessons were well structured throughout, it being obvious that the students were accustomed to the range of generally appropriate methodologies being adopted. The methodologies that are successful for teaching and learning in LCA should continue to be fully explored and adopted by teachers to facilitate positive outcomes for the students. The vitality and cohesiveness of the programme teaching team is central to success. It is urged that the core team consider the best approaches to providing appropriate support, CPD and encouragement for teachers, particularly those new to LCA, to fully capitalise on the most suitable teaching methodologies and strategies.
The pace of the lessons suited the abilities of the students and the requirements of work being undertaken. A variety of teaching resources was used, from the data projector to the whiteboard and paper, scissors, magazines and newspapers used in the making of visual presentations.
Learning took place in a pleasant, positive atmosphere. While the teachersí expectations of the students were high, successful classroom management and a sensitive approach to discipline ensured that, generally, students were positively engaged and willingly worked to their potential. Affirmation of studentsí efforts supported the development of their self-confidence and encouraged them to enter fully into discussion, contributing their views on a range of issues that arose in the course of the lessons.
Students showed enthusiasm and co-operated with their teachers and each other. Cooperation was particularly notable in lessons where group work was employed. Where engagement was more individual students showed an equal measure of purposeful application. The knowledge and understanding of their work that students showed when questioned was also impressive. In general, it was clear from the studentsí answering and their readiness to ask pertinent questions and make insightful comments on occasion, that impressive learning was taking place. The application by studentsí of their learning to the completion of key assignments and tasks gave further indication of successful learning
A range of assessment modes is employed to track and record LCA studentsí progress, from the less-formal when students are assigned written, oral and other work in class, commonly affirmed and annotated by the teacher, to the formal assessment of work prescribed for successful completion of the programme. Students are consistently given regular feedback on their progress by these means in line with best practice.
Students are required to complete key assignments in each module of the courses studied. The completion of these key assignments provides a structure for continuous assessment and its recording. The programme co-ordinator issues each of the course teachers with specific folders, at the beginning of each session, to store the studentsí key assignments. The course teacher monitors the completion and keeps charge of the folders together with records of the credits earned by individual students. The maintenance of this system for storage and recording of key assignments is commended. It is suggested, to further improve the system of storage, that the folders of key assignments be returned to an identified central location for storage on completion.
Over the four sessions of the programme, students are required to complete seven student tasks which are assessed for certification. The range and quality of the tasks which had been undertaken by the students indicated initiative, dedication and developing skills. It is commended that planning is in train to identify and put in place improved systems to provide parents with enhanced meaningful feedback on student progress. Student learning outcomes are appropriate to the ability levels of students, and are used to determine individual learning needs.
The recording of studentsí attendance is systematic and consistent and provides for the monitoring of the level required for the award of credits. It is recommended, to further improve this creditable practice, that printouts of the school attendance records be circulated to teachers regularly to facilitate the comparison of class attendance records with those of the school and to provide accurate records of allowed absences where these occur.
The link between the teaching strategies employed in the delivery of the course and studentsí assessment outcomes is used by the programme team as an aid to programme evaluation, leading to modification and improvement. This represents best practice as does the annual review of the appropriateness and success of vocational specialisms and electives. It is recommended that this approach be expanded to include regular, similarly focussed evaluation of various other aspects of the programme, leading to an annual review in terms of the attainment of objectives. Best practice in the review will include input from students, parents and members of the school community not involved in the programme. The LCA core team has a role in leading the process of internal evaluation and annual review.
The evaluation of the LCA programme in St Fanahanís provided clear evidence of its successes, including its impact on appropriate educational provision in the school, the sense of belonging and pride in the programme shared by its students, high attendance levels and predominantly successful completion.
Further evidence of the attainment of the objectives of the programme include the quality of studentsí learning and the development of their skills of self-management.
The community from which the school draws its students benefits from the success of the programme. These benefits are identified in the schoolís records which show improved school retention and increased rates of progression of students to further education.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ Success is being achieved in building studentsí self-esteem while undertaking challenging work that is within their individual abilities.
∑ The involvement of the guidance counsellor as programme co-ordinator provides very good additional opportunities for full support of students in their decision-making concerning involvement in LCA.
∑ The recent development of the position of HSCL co-ordinator has, together with its broader remit, the potential to enhance further communication with the parents of students in LCA.
∑ The school celebrates the work of LCA students effectively at ďhigh profileĒ occasions (such as a meal for the whole school prepared by session 2 students) and by advertising or displaying studentsí work around the school
∑ Planning for the programme is effective, minutes of LCA team meetings are kept by the co-ordinator and there is clarity of purpose among the whole programme team while the work of the core team, consisting of the principal, programme co-ordinator and resource teacher, is commended.
∑ It is commended that planning is in train to identify and put in place improved systems to provide parents with enhanced, meaningful feedback on studentsí progress.
∑ The link between the teaching strategies employed in the delivery of the programme and studentsí assessment outcomes is used by the programme team as an aid to programme evaluation, leading to modification and improvement.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
∑ It is essential that the timetable be reviewed with a view to meeting minimum time requirements of each module.
∑ The separate roles of all staff, including those of the HSCL co-ordinator and the LCA year head, should be carefully defined with reference to LCA and included in the LCA programme plan.
∑ It is recommended that a written LCA programme plan be developed and be integrated with the school plan.
∑ It is recommended, to further strengthen the operation of the LCA core team, including the LCA co-ordinator and the principal or deputy principal, that it meet formally on a regular basis and provide a forum for discussion and resolution of the most effective responses to the needs of students and the programme.
∑ Teachers should, where occasionally the approach to teaching has moved towards too great an emphasis on preparation for examinations, re-focus lesson planning on the use of a broad range of teaching methodologies and participant-centred learning, in line with the underlying principals of LCA.
∑ It is recommended that focussed school-based evaluation of various aspects of the LCA programme be established, leading to an annual review of the programme focussing on the attainment of objectives.
Published, September 2008