An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Programme Evaluation Transition Year (TY)
Larkin Community College
Roll Number: 76077O
Date of inspection: 11 December 2008
This report has been written following an evaluation of the TY in Larkin Community 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 three 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, the deputy principal and the programme co-ordinator following the evaluation. 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.
Larkin Community College is a co-educational college in the heart of Dublin city. Larkin Community College was opened in September 1999 as the result of an amalgamation of two inner city schools. The school is under the remit of the City of Dublin Vocational Educational Committee (VEC). The school is to be commended for offering all curricular programmes. The Transition Year programme has been on offer in the school for the past three years.
1.1 Whole school support
There is exemplary whole-school support for the TY programme in Larkin Community College. The senior management team has a thorough knowledge of the programme and supports it in every way possible. The morale among the TY teaching team is high and teachers are, for the most part, happy to teach on the programme. It was evident that members of staff are aware of and supportive of the programme.
The TY programme is discussed at staff meetings and, in addition, meetings are held for the TY teaching team. A whole-staff in-service on the TY programme was held when the school first introduced the programme. It is timely now that members of staff would consider engaging in other TY related, perhaps subject-specific, professional development, as provided by the TY support service. Further information on such in-service is available at www.slss.ie
The majority of teachers currently teaching on the programme have previous experience of teaching TY. Teachers who are new to the programme showed familiarity with the principles of TY and were aware of resources available relating to TY. It is suggested that the induction of teachers new to the TY programme be formalized. There is very good practice in the school of consulting all staff members regarding interests they may have in designing modules for the TY programme. This is effective practice and builds on teachers’ talents.
The TY programme is well resourced. Members of staff are assigned appropriately to the programme. Information and communication technology (ICT) is used most effectively in organizing the programme. A digital projector, computer and access to the shared network is available in every class room. Moodle is currently being piloted and members of staff can access all information on TY in the school through this internal network. The amount of material available through this shared network is most impressive. It is intended that students will eventually be able to access this information too. This is indicative of the progressive approach of the management and staff in the school and is to be very highly commended.
The timetable is a key resource and this is used well. The timetable is flexible and allows for innovative modules to be developed according as the opportunities arise. This is praiseworthy. The timetable presented at the time of the evaluation shows total instruction time of twenty-seven hours and ten minutes. When assembly time is included this brings the time to the required minimum of twenty-eight hours instruction time as outlined in circular M29/95. However it is necessary now for the school to formalize the assembly time to ensure compliance with the requirements of the aforementioned circular.
The TY grant from the Department of Education and Science is used effectively and mainly to subsidise trips for TY students. Funds are also used for the purchase of materials to support teaching and learning.
The school has excellent facilities including a well-stocked library with internet access, a dance studio, an all-weather soccer pitch and a fully equipped gymnasium with a purpose-built climbing wall. All school facilities are available and used by TY students. This is most laudable.
1.3 Student selection and support
The TY programme is optional in the school. In the current year twenty-nine students are in the TY programme. The numbers of boys in the programme outweigh the girls by a ratio of two to one. Gender balance among the student cohort in TY is an area that needs to be reviewed as it can be difficult for the minority group to find a voice as was evidenced in the course of visits to lessons.
School management and teachers work very well together to ensure that students who will benefit most from the programme are availing of it. Students are given plenty of information regarding the programme when they are in third year. The TY coordinator visits all classes to inform the students about TY. Parents are given clear information about the programme. An excellent prospectus for TY has been developed for parents and students. This provides a most effective means of communication about all aspects of the programme.
Students are well supported in TY. It was evident in interaction with senior management and teachers that students are very well cared for. Most impressive was the thorough knowledge and awareness of individual students’ needs. It is clear that the students’ needs and best interests are central at all times. The school is to be very highly commended for its support for students.
The student induction into the TY programme is very good and it is clear that a lot of thought has gone into ensuring students settle into the programme well. Excellent use is made of the induction materials provided by the TY support service. This is to be commended. Part of the induction programme involves the students analyzing their own learning styles according to Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence. Students do team-building exercises which enable them to get to know one another and work well together in groups. TY students themselves reported that the team-building exercises were most beneficial, particularly as the students had been drawn from different third-year class groups.
1.4 Home, school and community links
Communication with parents of TY students is very good. Reports are sent to parents twice per term. This is exemplary as parents are informed every eight weeks regarding the students’ progress. It is evident that parents are made feel very welcome in the school. Parents attend parent-teacher meetings and are invited to award ceremonies.
The school’s links with the community are excellent. Links with local businesses in particular serve to enrich the TY programme. For example Citibank provide personnel to deliver the Junior Achievement business programme in addition to providing work experience opportunities for the students. The school is strongly linked to local educational establishments including primary, post-primary and third-level institutions. These links are most beneficial in TY where students run a programme to teach dance to primary school pupils. The links with local community agencies, for example the Lions Club and Alone, are also strong. The school is to be commended for the huge amount of work that goes into developing and maintaining links with the community, which serves to enrich the education for the TY students in so many positive ways. Management and staff are to be most highly commended for living up to the mission of being a true community college.
The school’s TY plan was presented in the course of evaluation. The plan is excellent and contains most of the elements suggested in the brochure entitled Writing the Transition Year Programme. The plan is kept in the staffroom as part of the school development plan and is available for all to consult at any time. In addition it is stored electronically on the aforementioned school internal network. This is exemplary practice.
The individual subject plans are written using a common template. While it is indeed laudable that a common framework is used across all subjects, it is recommended that the template be reviewed and that the suggested format in the document Writing the Transition Year Programme (Part 2) be used. The existing subject plans should be developed to include student learning outcomes and information on how the content and methodology of individual subjects and modules will be evaluated.
Planning documentation for individual subjects should also include information on how differentiation will occur in the classroom. It would be very useful if teachers could plan to link the methodologies used in TY with the theories of multiple intelligence which the students are familiar with. This will involve teachers planning to make more use of visual stimuli in the presentation of lesson content and planning more active teaching methodologies.
Cross-curricular dimensions were evident in the plan for TY. However it is necessary for subject departments to work together to plan on a cross-curricular basis. This will further enhance the existing plans at subject and module level. The plans for research and study skills are good and show links to other subjects, for example History and English. It is recommended that all teachers consider how research and study skills can be developed in their own subject area. This will further enhance a cross-curricular approach.
The existing subject plans do not indicate how subject areas will be integrated with ICT. It is important that students access ICT as it relates to individual subjects. It is therefore recommended that the subject plans include this important aspect.
The programme is very well co-ordinated. The co-ordinator’s knowledge of the TY programme principles and ethos is excellent. A special duties post has been allocated to the role of TY coordinator. The co-ordinator’s duties involve a wide range of organizational and administrative tasks associated with the TY programme. It is recommended that the duties assigned to the role be formally documented by senior management.
Communication between the TY co-ordinator and staff, parents and the wider school community is very good. The use of notice boards in the main entrance to the school and in the staff room to communicate information about TY is commendable. The co-ordinator has an office with very good facilities, including ICT resources.
At present a core TY team is not in place to support the extensive work of the co-ordinator. It is recommended that a TY core team be established, if resources permit, in accordance with the Department of Education and Science guidelines on best practice in TY.
The school complies fully with department circulars and guidelines with regard to the TY curriculum. The curriculum offered is broad and balanced. In accordance with the aims of the TY programme, the four layers – core, choice, modular and calendar – were all present in the school’s programme. All students study Irish, English, Mathematics and Italian. Subject sampling is available in Music, Business Studies, History and Biology. The modules designed specifically for TY are peer education, road safety, classics and research and study skills. There are many calendar events which also serve to enrich the programme.
In some cases there may be overlap between certain subject areas, for example the junior achievement module and Business. It is recommended that the overall curriculum be examined to see how subjects with obvious overlap could be streamlined. Those subjects which may not have such an obvious overlap should also be analysed to see how cross-curricular links can be established in the design modules.
Guidance is not timetabled officially in TY. However, the guidance counselor meets with individual students to discuss subject options. In addition, some whole-class sessions are organized where the guidance counselor delivers vocational guidance in a global setting. A whole-school approach to Guidance was very evident in the course of the evaluation.
Social education forms part of the curriculum in TY. In the first term, TY students had listened to many guest speakers talking about different social issues. As a result of this, the students chose to host a coffee morning for senior citizens in the community in conjunction with ALONE. This took place in the school in the course of the evaluation and was visited by the inspector. This was an outstanding example of best practice in TY. Students prepared the food, beverages and the venue in advance of the party. They served the senior citizens, organized presents and sang for their guests who were completely delighted by the whole event. It was clear that the students learned a great deal from the experience. Organising such community events is most laudable. The school may consider in the future setting up a programme of community work experience for the TY students to build on the existing good practice.
Students have two weeks of work experience in the first and second term. The school has a bank of data (as a result of the work experience component of the longer established Leaving Certificate Applied programme) regarding potential locations for work experience for TY students. This is good practice. It is particularly noteworthy that the school assists in securing high quality work experience placements for the students. Students are well supported in the preparation for work experience. In the course of the placement, students are requested to fill in a daily log to record what they have done. This is effective practice. In order to encourage reflective practice it is recommended that students be required to record the main learning outcomes of their work experience each day.
In designing the curriculum, one of the key strengths is its flexibility. Where events in the community occur or new options become available, the school is prepared to include such aspects in the curriculum. This makes for a very innovative and enriched curriculum.
3.1 Planning and preparation
Most lessons were well planned and good advance preparation was evident. Materials which were to be used in the course of the lessons were prepared in advance to a good standard. In all cases, individual lessons were planned in accordance with the subject plans.
As the TY class group comprises students of a wide variety of abilities, it is recommended that more emphasis be placed on planning for different learning styles and for differentiation in lessons. It is essential that students’ interests, needs and range of abilities be taken into account when planning for teaching and learning.
In short-term planning for lessons, it is recommended that an increased focus be placed on student learning outcomes. It is imperative that there is clarity around exactly what it is that the learners are expected to know at the end of a lesson. This will then inform planning for the methodologies to be used in class.
3.2 Learning and teaching
A variety of lessons was observed in the course of the evaluation. Lesson content in most lessons was chosen in line with the principles of the TY programme and with the needs and interests of students in mind. This is to be commended. In a minority of instances, lesson content was of less interest to students. It is recommended that ways of relating lesson content to the lives of the students be found. This is particularly appropriate in TY where students are engaged in many activities outside the classroom. For example the inspection took place just after the TY students returned to the classroom from work experience. It should be possible to link lesson content in many lessons to the world of work and draw on students’ first hand experiences.
A variety of methodologies were used to very good effect in some of the lessons observed. Particularly effective was the use of group work. Students were asked to plan a school magazine and to work out sample family budgets. Students engaged readily with these tasks. In the course of such activities, teachers circulated among groups and gave assistance where required. This is exemplary practice and should be replicated in all subject areas. In some lessons, team teaching was used. This is excellent practice. Teachers were very well prepared and worked with great ease together. It was clear that students benefited greatly from this practice. It is recommended that team teaching be used as much as resources permit.
In some lessons, the main methodology used was lecture style. While this was interspersed with frequent questioning of students, it is recommended that an increase in active teaching methodologies be used in teaching the TY class. It is recommended that all teachers teaching TY note the Department of Education and Science guidelines on the TY programme which state that a key feature of the programme should be the use of a wide range of teaching and learning methodologies. While it must be stated that this is achieved across the programme as a whole in the school, it was evident that in a minority of lessons a variety of methodologies is not being used. Given the expertise on the staff regarding the use of team teaching and active teaching methodologies, it is suggested that good practice could be further shared within the school.
Resources such as the whiteboard and handouts were used to good effect in lessons observed. However, it is recommended that more emphasis be placed on visual stimuli such as pictures, photographs, the use of DVD and video, and data projectors. It is noted that data projectors are available in all classrooms. These should be used to enhance teaching and learning.
Classroom atmosphere in all lessons was good. Student-teacher rapport was good and mutual respect was evident. Where students made errors, these were corrected with sensitivity. In some lessons, student affirmation was notable. It is recommended that the use of praise be increased across lessons. This serves well to motivate students.
A variety of assessment modes is used to assess students’ learning outcomes. In the course of some lessons, students were asked questions to see if they understood, or to establish prior knowledge of, a topic. It is recommended that, in all lessons, some form of summative assessment take place. Students’ learning should be checked on frequently in the course of lessons to ensure that learning is taking place.
It was noted that, frequently, in the course of lessons, questions were posed globally rather than to individual students. Most of the time only a few students answered and these were all boys. In light of this evidence, and the aforementioned gender imbalance in the class group, it is strongly recommended that questions be posed to individual students who are called on by name. This will ensure that equal demand is placed on all students and that all students are given a voice.
Homework was assigned and sought by teachers in some lessons, but not in all. A selection of students’ journals was viewed in the course of the evaluation. It is clear that homework is being assigned in many subjects, but not all. However, there are inconsistencies of practice in this regard. Therefore it is recommended that a common policy be adopted across TY teachers regarding the frequency of homework. Where students are invited to read out work that they have completed for homework, it is recommended that feedback be given to the learners so that they can learn how to improve.
Formal testing occurs relatively frequently and a report is sent to parents at the end of every half term. This is good practice and ensures that parents have regular information regarding students’ progress.
The portfolio is the main form of assessment. A selection of the portfolios was viewed as part of the evaluation. These are well maintained and contain appropriate materials. At the end of the school year, students will be assessed by means of interviews. As preparation for these interviews, it is suggested that more emphasis be placed on oral presentations in lessons. Very good materials regarding the teaching of oral presentations are available on the TY section of the website of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS) at www.slss.ie.
Certification is considered important in the TY programme in the school. The TY students receive certificates for achievements both within the school and from outside the school. This is very good practice. It is suggested that consideration be given to producing TY certificates in the languages that are taught in the TY programme in addition to the existing certificates.
Record keeping is of a high standard and is comprehensive. Evaluation is done both formally and informally. At the end of the first half-term this year, students were asked to write an evaluation of the TY programme to date. This was with a view to informing future planning and making any adjustments that might be necessary for the rest of the year. Seeking student input in this manner is effective practice.
A full formal evaluation of the TY has not yet taken place. It is recommended that this take place at the end of the academic year. The evaluation templates provided by the SLSS for TY will be of great assistance. In the evaluation, it is recommended that the views of parents, students, teachers and senior management be sought.
The TY programme in Larkin Community College proactively upholds the national mission of the TY as laid down in the document Transition Year Programmes: Guidelines for Schools (Department of Education and Science: 1995). The outcomes of the excellent TY programme in Larkin Community College are clear. Students are benefiting enormously from the rich and varied programme offered by the school. Through the work experience module students, are receiving valuable preparation for the world of work. As a result of excellent links with the community students are benefiting personally, educationally and socially.
It was clear in the course of the evaluation that students have a positive attitude to the education they are receiving. Student retention and attendance have improved. This is evidenced by statistics made available in the course of the evaluation from the exemplary tracking system in the school and the exemplary use of data regarding the monitoring of students’ attendance. Students themselves spoke extremely enthusiastically and provided many concrete examples of how they are benefiting from the programme. In particular they feel better placed to make subject choices for Leaving Certificate or Leaving Certificate Applied. This is a very good reflection on the TY programme and, in particular, the subject sampling aspect of it which has placed the students well to chose subjects at the end of the academic year. The social education element of the programme ensures that students develop an awareness of issues in society and the contribution they can make. The staff and students are to be highly commended on the work they are doing to make the TY programme in the school a great success and a wonderful educational opportunity.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is exemplary whole-school support for the TY programme in Larkin Community College. The senior management team and teaching staff have a thorough knowledge of the programme and support
it in every way possible.
· The school’s TY plan is excellent.The TY programme is well resourced. Members of staff are assigned appropriately to the programme. Information and communication technology is used most
effectively in organizing the programme.
· The TY programme is optional in the school. School management and teachers work very well together to ensure that students who will benefit most from the programme are availing of it.
· The student induction into the programme is very good and it is clear that a lot of thought has gone into ensuring students settle into the programme well. Exemplary use is made of the
induction materials provided by the TY support service.
· It is clear that the students’ needs and best interests are central at all times. The school is to be very highly commended for its support for students.
· The school’s links with the community are excellent.
· The programme is very well co-ordinated. The co-ordinator’s knowledge of the TY programme principles and ethos is excellent.
· The curriculum offered is broad and balanced. In accordance with the aims of the TY programme, the four layers – core, choice, modular and calendar – were all present in the school’s programme.
· The TY programme in Larkin Community College proactively upholds the national mission of the TY as laid down in the document Transition Year Programmes: Guidelines for Schools
(Department of Education and Science: 1995).
· The outcomes of the excellent TY programme in Larkin Community College are clear. Students are benefiting enormously from the rich and varied programme offered by the school. The benefits
are obvious from the social, personal, educational and vocational dimensions.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that a TY core team be put in place, if resources permit.
· Planning documentation for individual subjects should also include information on how differentiation will occur in the classroom. It is recommended that subject departments work together to plan
on a cross-curricular basis.
· It is important that students access ICT as it relates to individual subjects. It is therefore recommended that the subject plans include the integration of ICT with the individual subject or module.
· It is recommended that an increase in active teaching methodologies be used in teaching the TY class.
· It is strongly recommended that, in the course of lessons, questions be posed to individual students, who are called on by name, in order to ensure that equal demand is placed on all students
and that all students be given a voice.
· It is recommended that a full formal evaluation of the TY take place at the end of the academic year. The evaluation templates provided by the SLSS for TY should be used to access the views
of parents, students, teachers and senior management.
Published, May 2009