An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
O’ Carolan College
Nobber, County Meath
Roll Number: 71980O
Date of inspection: 13 March 2008
The Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme is part of the expanded senior cycle provision designed to cater for the diversity of students’ needs. Its fundamental goal is to prepare students for the transition from education to the adult and working life, and to develop students’ 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 students’ learning experiences. Assessment of students’ 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 was given an opportunity to comment in writing 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 LCA in O’ Carolan College. It presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the programme in the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held meetings with the school principal, a core group of teachers and with a small group of students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector liaised extensively with the programme co-ordinator and visited classrooms to observe teaching and learning. The inspector provided oral feedback to teachers on lessons observed. The inspector also examined 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 co-ordinators.
The LCA was introduced to the senior cycle in O’ Carolan College in 2005. Other senior cycle options available are the Transition Year programme (TY), the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the established Leaving Certificate. At junior cycle level the school offers the Junior Certificate programme and the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP). Sixteen teachers are currently involved in the teaching of LCA. There are two class groups; LCA year1 (LCA1) and LCA year 2 (LCA2) which contain fifteen and nine students, respectively.
1.1 Whole-school support
LCA is appropriately supported in the school. Two co-ordinators of LCA have been appointed, one for each year group. They remain with the group throughout the two years of the programme. The co-ordinators are in regular contact with the LCA students as both are class tutors to their groups. In line with good practice, the LCA teaching team meets at the beginning of the year and minutes were provided for these meetings. All members of the LCA teaching team met during the evaluation displayed interest and dedication to the programme. There is no formal induction programme for teachers new to LCA. Information is provided by the LCA co-ordinator for that year group and new teachers are also directed to an experienced teacher in the subject area. There is scope to formalise the procedures for teacher induction to LCA as members of the teaching team for LCA can change from one year to the next depending on timetabling and subjects available. It is recommended that a core team of LCA teachers be developed. This would help to build on the wealth of experience available to LCA and form a solid base for the programme to progress in the school. This core team should consist of one teacher from each of the following areas: social education, vocational specialisms, vocational preparation and guidance, and home-school-community liaison. It is further recommended that at the initial LCA meeting at the start of the school year, the programme co-ordinators should deliver an LCA review for the team on the underlying principles of LCA and the teaching and learning methodologies appropriate to LCA.
The principal has a keen interest in the programme and the issues around its implementation. It is good practice that timetabling of LCA and choice of modules and electives is discussed with the LCA co-ordinators on an annual basis.
The LCA co-ordinators have a good awareness and understanding of the programme and its execution. Timetabling is generally appropriate. However, there is scope to review the spread of Irish classes throughout the week. It is commendable that selection of teachers for the LCA programme is based on teacher interest and subject expertise. For example, Agriculture, Horticulture has been added to the current LCA 1 timetable.
Information and communication technology (ICT) is used effectively in organising the programme. All classrooms are broadband enabled and contain a PC and a data projector. An e-portal system has also been established recently in the school. LCA 2 students are issued with memory sticks to record their work. The LCA department also has a digital camera and this can be used as an excellent classroom resource as well as a means of recording student tasks as completed. Students have access to the ICT room for the Introduction to ICT module and additional access to the room is organised informally.
1.3 Student selection
Appropriate information on the LCA programme is provided to students and parents. All parents are invited to attend the senior cycle options night, an options talk is provided for all third-year students. The principal is involved in the selection of students for LCA and meets with all third-year students individually and in groups to discuss their senior cycle options. Each student’s academic history within the school is examined and special consideration is given to JCSP students. It is good practice that LCA is promoted in the school by the celebration of student achievements through an awards evening, publicity at assembly, intercom announcements, and attendance of other students at LCA activities. As resources permit it is recommended that the school develops a secure central area where LCA projects and tasks can be displayed to the full student body.
1.4 Home, school and community links
Appropriate links are maintained with the home through parent-teacher meetings, an annual open night, phone calls, written feedback in students’ diaries, letters home and the school newsletter. Commendably the school has developed a rewards and incentives strategy to promote attendance. There is also an LCA attendance strategy policy. It is recommended that this policy be revisited in order to reflect fully the good practices already in place in the school.
1.5 Supports for students
Teachers offer ongoing feedback, in an attempt to direct students toward a better way of applying themselves and working on their organisational skills. Teachers offer constant reminders regarding deadlines and also post important dates on the LCA calendar in the students’ tutor room. Information is provided to all teachers at the start of the school year concerning students with specific educational needs. No LCA students are in receipt of additional learning support at present. It is recommended that this be monitored as, although the LCA programme can be used as an effective learning programme, in future years, some students may be in need of additional educational supports. Consideration should also be given to team teaching as a means of providing extra support.
The programme is well co-ordinated in the school. The duties of the two co-ordinators include collaborating with members of the teaching team, planning the LCA programme and reviewing it on an ongoing basis. They are also involved with purchasing equipment and advising students on issues such as task work, work placement, attendance, and completion of key assignments. They monitor students’ progress within their own group, organise trips, guest speakers, events, deal with student discipline and inform parents of students’ progress.
The LCA co-ordinators maintain good communication with school management, teachers and students. This is achieved through regular meetings, both formal and informal, the presence of a LCA notice board in the staff room and input at staff meetings. The arrangement by which both LCA co-ordinators are also class tutors for LCA years one and two is beneficial to both tutors and students as tutor time allows additional contact with the students and facilitates the development of positive relationships between the co-ordinator and students.
The LCA planning team meets regularly and currently consists of the principal and the LCA co-ordinators. An LCA programme overview has been developed. Input is provided from teachers within the teaching team with regard to timetabling issues and future development of specific courses. The formation of a core team of LCA teachers could focus on the development of short-term, medium-term and long-term plans for the LCA programme.
Schemes of work have been developed. Best practice was observed where these contained learning objectives for the topics to be taught, linked to appropriate methodologies and methods of assessment. It is recommended that this good practice be extended to all schemes of work. Each teacher maintains detailed records of students’ completion of key assignments.
A broad and balanced curriculum is provided in the LCA programme. The vocational specialisms taken by students in LCA 1 include Agriculture, Horticulture, and Graphics and Construction Studies. The LCA 2 students take Engineering, and Hotel Catering and Tourism (HCT) as their vocational specialisms. It is good practice that the specialisms are reviewed annually with respect to students’ interests, teacher availability and student feedback. In line with good practice the LCA planning team endeavours to put in place specialisms that will best cater for the interests of the students and that will stimulate a new enthusiasm within the students. For this reason they attempt to offer one specialism that the majority of students have experience in and a second that is new to most students.
Elective modules in LCA 1 include Engineering and HCT. Those in LCA 2 are Science, and Graphics and Construction Studies. It is commendable that these were chosen as a result of students’ input. The modern foreign language provided is Spanish.
The school has a good structured approach to work placement. Work experience is an integral part of the curriculum, each student completes two blocks of work experience in each year. Preparation for work occurs through subjects such as English and Communications, and Vocational Preparation and Guidance. In almost all instances, students obtain their own work placements. The work-experience co-ordinator maintains contact with employers during the work experience by telephone or by visiting the work place.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
Individual teachers provided comprehensive planning folders during the evaluation. This planning documentation gives a clear description of the work to be completed within the subject areas and provides a framework for the short-term planning of individual teachers.
A good range of teacher-generated resources was observed in many of the subject areas visited. These included worksheets, word banks and word searches. Where employed, ICT was used effectively in the preparation of teaching and learning materials. As the e-portal system develops in the school, there is scope for further sharing of good practice. The LCA folder on the e-portal system could include schemes of work for each subject area. It could also be used to store resources, particularly those applicable to cross-curricular integration.
3.2 Teaching and learning
The lessons observed were well structured so that the content and pace were appropriate to the class group. Generally the aim of the lesson was outlined at the start of the lesson and this is good practice.
Good use of a local environmental issue provided the context for one social education class where the lesson involved discussion of a video clip of a protest from the RTE website. Students were organised into groups of two to formulate two positive points and two negative points relating to the environmental issue. A photocopy of a local newspaper article was used as additional information. The teacher played a recording of the newspaper text with breaks at appropriate intervals to allow discussion and to explain key words. This attention to literacy was good practice, particularly where the key words were noted on the white board. Good practice in regard to literacy was evident in a number of the lessons visited; this could be augmented by the provision of a class set of dictionaries.
A range of active learning methodologies was observed and these included class discussion, writing, practical activities, pair work, oral work including spelling, reading aloud and the pronunciation of subject-specific terminology. Methodologies were varied throughout the lessons and this served to engage students’ interest and keep them focused. Teachers moved around the classroom checking and affirming students as well as providing assistance where necessary. They made use of a variety of resources such as the overhead projector (OHP), data projector, worksheets, textbooks, whiteboard, fitness studio, yoga mats, stereo, CDs, television and DVD. These were used appropriately and supported the content of the lessons.
Good practice in collaborative learning was observed in a vocational preparation and guidance class where the class desks were organised to form one table similar to a boardroom. A committee had been set up to organise a fundraising event and all students had a role. An appropriate level of teacher intervention was evidenced. Each member reported on their progress to the group while the others commented on and commended their work. The lesson concluded with a class discussion which was facilitated by the teacher. There was appropriate emphasis on record keeping as students were asked to record their work in their diaries at the end of the lesson. Commendably, students were encouraged to write in their own words and to use the meeting agenda for correct spelling and key words.
A good level of independent work was evidenced in one lesson where students completed a project on ‘my local environment’. Some students had taken photos of their local area while others had downloaded pictures from the internet. When questioned by the inspector students responded confidently. All students reported a high level of interest in the topic they were researching, topics were personally chosen by the students. This is laudable as it gives students ownership and encourages responsibility for the end product. Students’ folders included an initial plan for the poster as well as draft sections of text.
Good use of audio-visual aids was evident in an English and communications lesson where a poem was displayed using the data projector. Students were encouraged to comment and elaborate on the meaning of each section of the poem. The teacher encouraged discussion through questioning which resulted in an interesting dialogue. This promoted student self-esteem and enhanced the positive atmosphere in the classroom. The teacher placed emphasis on the meaning of unfamiliar words and the lesson was pitched at a level which was appropriate to the abilities of the students. Students’ contributions indicated a good understanding of the topic. The sentiments in the poem were reinforced as a CD recording of the poem was played. Following this, students were asked to write about an image they liked in the poem. Commendably the teacher wrote the start of the sentence on the whiteboard and students were encouraged to finish it. Students were then encouraged to read aloud their answers and key words were noted on the white board.
Classroom management was effective and discipline was sensitively maintained in all lessons visited. A good teacher-student and student-student rapport was evident. Students were affirmed and encouraged for their efforts and contributions. Students were enthusiastic, purposeful and co-operative in their work.
Commendably, in all lessons, teachers circulated around the room and provided support and encouragement to students as they performed practical or written activities. It was observed that students were confident and capable as they worked on their practical tasks. It is commendable that teachers went to great lengths to ensure that lesson content had practical applications which were relevant to students’ everyday lives. This was evidenced in a mathematical applications lesson where students carried out calculations on a sample wages slip. Calculators are retained in the classroom and distributed to students as necessary. Good attention to numeracy was observed throughout the lesson and any student experiencing difficulty was given extra attention by the teacher.
A well organised and well-managed practical lesson in Hotel Catering and Tourism was observed where students compared a home-made burger with a convenience burger. Students displayed good routines for setting up and clearing away the materials used while paying good attention to health and safety issues. The lesson proceeded at a pace which was appropriate to the students and time was built into the lesson for intermittent whole class demonstrations and recapitulation by the teacher. Commendably, the teacher ensured that every student was listening before commencing the demonstration or explanation. It is good practice that sufficient time was available at the end of the lesson to compile a comparison table and allow each group to discuss their results. Commendably a word bank of relevant key words had been developed and was displayed in the classroom. This provided valuable assistance to students as they wrote their conclusions in their notebooks.
Good practice was observed in the assessment of students’ work. A range of assessment modes is regularly used and these include questioning, observation, practical work, written assignments as well as the LCA key assignments and tasks. Students’ progress is monitored through the completion of the key assignments related to individual modules in the programme and results are recorded by the subject teacher. Key assignments are retained for the two years of the programme which is in line with good practice. A number of praiseworthy student tasks were observed during the evaluation. Projects, tasks and displays could be photographed and retained by the school as evidence of their completion.
Parental feedback takes the form of parent-teacher meetings and school reports sent out at appropriate intervals during the school year.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
It is commendable that the school has begun the process of reviewing the programme. To date this has been largely on an informal basis. Student feedback has been used to outline the strengths and weaknesses within the programme and the co-ordinators take on board these observations. This review has taken the form of an informal chat where the students are comfortable giving a subjective view of the course. Classroom teachers discuss any observations or recommendations on improvements with the co-ordinators. The co-ordinators then meet with the principal, usually once during the year and again at the end of the year to discuss feedback, recommendations, and observations made by the teaching team and students, as well as those of the co-ordinators themselves. There is scope to formalise the review process. It is recommended that a formal review of the programme takes place on an annual basis and that this evaluation involve all participants in LCA, including parents and sixth-year students. Materials to guide the review process are available on the website: www.slss.ie/lca
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
There is evidence from the school that the programme has been of benefit to students. Management reported that students who had a history of low academic achievement have achieved attainable goals and improved their self-esteem. Evidence of the development of students’ learning and self-management skills was observed in their ability to complete tasks and the accompanying reports within specific timeframes. The school keeps up-to-date records on students’ attendance and retention levels. Management reported that the level of early school leaving in the school had shown a reduction over the two years preceding the evaluation.
Student representatives met with during the evaluation reported a gain in useful life experience. They praised the work experience provided saying that it allows them make a more informed career choice and they informed the inspector of their plans for future progression to colleges of further education and training. This is an illustration of the success of the programme in the school. The students’ ability to communicate on a variety of topics was indicative of a good level of self-esteem and self-confidence. This is highly commended and provides further evidence of attention to the development of literacy.
Cross-curricular integration, which is a key educational principle of the LCA programme, is facilitated through key assignments, tasks and work experience. All tasks give students the opportunity to display their competence in the use of ICT, a factor which in turn enhances the presentation of the tasks. This 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:
Published November 2008