An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Leaving Certificate Applied Programme Evaluation
John the Baptist Community School
Hospital County Limerick
Roll Number: 91502N
Date of inspection: 31 January 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 goals are to prepare students for the transition from education to 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 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 John the Baptist Community School. 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 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.
John the Baptist Community School opened its doors in 1997 following the amalgamation of the two schools in the town, the Presentation De La Salle Secondary School that was run jointly by the Presentation Sisters and the De La Salle Brothers, and Hospital Vocational School run by County Limerick Vocational Education Committee. In senior cycle, students can avail of the Transition Year (TY) programme and can choose one of the three Leaving Certificate programmes, the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the LCA programme. LCA has been offered to students in the school from the outset and was part of the curriculum of Presentation De La Salle Secondary School prior to the amalgamation. It continues to be a popular option with students, the uptake being generally good.
1.1 Whole-school support
Whole-school support for the programme is very good. Senior management has a very good knowledge of the implementation of LCA and the issues surrounding the programme, the experience of the deputy principal in co-ordinating LCA prior to her current appointment being an advantage. It is understood that management is very supportive of the co-ordinator who has taken up the position this year. This is commended. It is clear from interacting with the core team and other teachers that their morale is high, they all demonstrated considerable interest and enthusiasm for their work.
Communication with the whole staff is facilitated through discussion at staff meetings. Whole-staff information on LCA was disseminated a number of years ago by means of a presentation. Consideration could be given to the delivery of a whole-staff presentation again given the nature of the programme. Teachers of LCA are encouraged and facilitated to avail of appropriate continuing professional development. In addition, a number of teachers have upskilled themselves through involvement in the examination of tasks. This is laudable.
A large team is involved in teaching LCA. Assignment of teachers to the LCA teaching team takes appropriate cognisance of the availability and interest of teachers. This is commended. During the evaluation, the inspector expressed concern about the large numbers of students in the LCA class. It is understood that the large number of students is due to contextual factors and management stated that timetabling would revert to customary practice in the future. The different elements of the programme are appropriately timetabled. Management facilitates purchase and updating of resources. This is commended. Significantly, information and communication technologies (ICT) are used effectively in organising LCA and students have appropriate access to ICT for completion of their work.
1.3 Student selection
The school operates an open policy with regard to student uptake of programmes for Leaving Certificate. Students are given accurate and appropriate information regarding all programmes, including LCA and are advised of the benefits of following each programme. This is achieved by means of whole-class explanation in third year. In addition the guidance counsellor provides comprehensive and timely support in decision-making and students are encouraged to talk to fifth-year and sixth-year students who are completing the different Leaving Certificate programmes. Furthermore, each year the school organises an in-school careers’ exhibition during which information on the LCA is disseminated at the LCA stand. This level of support is commended.
1.4 Home, school and community links
Parents of third-year students are made aware of the nature and purpose of the LCA through a presentation and discussion on the information night. They are subsequently consulted during the student-programme-choice process. This is good practice. Regular and frequent contact between the school and parents is facilitated through the students’ journals and the annual parent-teacher meeting. In addition parental consent is obtained for students’ participation in work experience. Furthermore, parents are invited and encouraged to participate in school events. This is commended. The home-school-community liaison teacher also contacts home as required. This is good practice.
Appropriate contacts are fostered and maintained with outside agencies and employers. Significantly this link with the community is enhanced by the involvement of all LCA teachers in monitoring work experience. The organisation of a Safe Pass course for students is commended as participation assists in developing students’ skills in preparation for work. Out-of-school activities include field trips that are anchored in the different subjects, all of which focus on making learning relevant and tangible. This is commended.
1.5 Supports for students
LCA students are an integral part of their specific year group and support is provided using the year-head and class-tutor structures. In addition, the ‘cabhair team’ that is part of the pastoral care system and which meets on a weekly basis identifies students who are in need of extra care and puts appropriate supports in place. This is highly commended.
The guidance provided for students is appropriate to their needs and in line with syllabus requirements.
There are appropriate supports in place on the programme for students with special educational needs. Significantly, planning for these students is undertaken by the resource teacher in consultation with the subject teacher and the LCA co-ordinator. Support is provided by means of one-to-one withdrawal for those students who are exempt from Irish and in some instances the resource teacher assists the students within the whole-class setting. This is good practice and its use is encouraged to a greater extent. Students are provided with additional help in their written tasks as required. Enhancement of the literacy of these students is achieved through the employment of methodologies such as spider diagrams and through completion of the key assignments. Students’ progress and learning outcomes are monitored and recorded by the resource teacher. This level of support and monitoring is commended.
The programme co-ordinator manages the TY, LCA and LCVP programmes in accordance with Circular Letter 18/02. The role is principally administrative and encompasses a broad range of duties that are effectively carried out, thus facilitating the successful implementation of LCA. Activities specifically related to LCA include liaising with senior management and the teaching team.
The co-ordinator has a good knowledge of the programme and its implementation and maintains good communication with school management and students. Programme information is disseminated to school staff via the notice board and staff meetings. Given the absence of an LCA base room, it is recommended that a programme notice board for students be put in place to display information and celebrate students’ achievements. Facilities and resources, including ICT are available so that co-ordination duties can be carried out effectively.
It is good to note that an LCA core-team has recently been put in place to support the effective co-ordination that is already in place. The composition of the team is such that it is representative of the different elements of the programme and also includes a member of the learning-support department. This is good practice. It was stated that this team would be involved in planning the curriculum and its delivery. In addition, it is understood that the team intends to meet regularly to monitor the programme. This is laudable.
Management is commended for facilitating whole-team meetings for each year group twice each year for overall planning and for making time-slots available during school-development-planning meetings. Discussion of the LCA and planning for students’ tasks that includes cross-curricular work takes place at these meetings. Commendably, minutes of these meetings are maintained. It is good to note that planning for students with special educational needs is an integral part of the planning process. To enhance the work already taking place, it is recommended that a written plan be devised for the LCA in accordance with best practice and current guidelines.
The school fully complies with Department guidelines and circulars regarding the programme. Decisions are made by management with regard to the curriculum, taking cognisance of the availability and interest of teachers. Management prioritises the needs, interests and abilities of students in the design and implementation of the curriculum that is broad and balanced. The vocational specialisms, Hotel and Catering, and Graphics and Construction, facilitate students’ development of practical skills. In addition students study two modules of Visual Art. Students complete the study of each language in one year, Irish being studied during fifth year and German in sixth year. It was reported that the elective modules, the four of which are Religion, are chosen in accordance with the religious ethos of the school and the deeds of trust of community schools. It is suggested that the school explore the possibility of introducing one or two modules from other areas of the curriculum, to further broaden students’ learning experiences. For example consideration could be given to the inclusion of science elective modules in view of its acceptance as an entry requirement for some beauty therapy courses.
Work experience is an integral part of the curriculum, being organised as a block release for each module. Guidance is appropriately timetabled and there is good provision within the curriculum for students to develop their ICT skills. The timetabling of a lesson for personal reflection is good practice as it facilitates the provision of support and advice to the students for the task and provides an opportunity to further students’ personal and social development.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
A very good level of preparation and advance planning enhanced teaching and learning. Resources were ready in advance and handouts had been prepared and ready for distribution. ICT was used effectively in the preparation of teaching and learning materials. Where appropriate, planning provided for differentiated approaches to teaching and learning in accordance with the range of students’ abilities and needs. The work of the teachers in this regard is commended.
In one lesson, there was evidence of good liaison between an individual teacher and the resource teacher in planning for the needs of a specific student. In some instances written lesson plans facilitated the successful progression of lessons. Subject plans were observed in electronic format in a minority of instances. This is good practice. It is recommended that individual subject plans be developed in all subject areas. Cross-curricular planning should be included in teachers’ written plans and these plans should be incorporated in the LCA plan.
3.2 Teaching and learning
Lessons were observed in ICT, Irish and Visual Art in fifth year, and English, Graphics and Construction and Personal Reflection in sixth year. Lessons were well structured and the pace was appropriate to students’ abilities and the task in hand. The learning objectives of the lessons were usually outlined to students. This is good practice. Consideration could be given to writing the learning intention on the board at the outset and letting it remain for the duration of the lesson in order to help focus students. It could also be used as a means of checking the learning during the recapitulation session at the end of the lesson. In many instances clear instructions and explanations enhanced students’ learning. The board was used effectively to highlight the main points of lessons and in some instances to provide visual images.
Commendably, the lessons were student-centred. A range of teaching methodologies was used appropriately, active teaching and learning methodologies being employed in all lessons. Care should be taken to include time at the end of lessons to recap and reinforce the material taught, as was evident in some instances.
A variety of resources was effectively used to support teaching and learning. Advance preparation in the form of equipment and handouts ensured that individual lessons progressed smoothly, and the employment of worksheets and crosswords provided for students’ active involvement in the learning process. The employment of card sorting/matching exercises and word searches in the Irish lesson was very effective in consolidating students’ learning.
Appropriate links were established, where applicable, with existing understanding and everyday experiences, thus making the subject tangible and relevant. For example, in the art lesson, the task at hand was for students to draw a map of “my own place, an aerial view”.
Questioning was employed in a successful manner, to build up lesson content, and as a method of recapping. It was good to note that in some instances probing questions were appropriately structured, and. in other lessons differentiated questioning was used and students were supported in their answers. One good example of this was in the English lesson where students were encouraged to expand their answers on the theme, tone and mood of the song ‘Raglan Road’. During this lesson students were afforded the opportunity to enhance their communication skills through oral, listening and written activities. This is commended.
In keeping with the key underlying principles of the LCA, attention was given to the development of students’ literacy in many lessons. For example in the personal reflection lesson, key words were written on the board and as a group activity, following discussion, students wrote down the skills and qualities required for different careers. These were subsequently displayed on the walls. It is recommended that a dictionary be available in all lessons for use by students to facilitate the development of their literacy using independent strategies.
Activities took place in a positive, stimulating and structured environment and teachers have high expectations of students. Classroom management was effective and discipline was sensitively maintained. Use of humour contributed to the very good teacher-student rapport that was observed. Students were interested, enthusiastic and co-operative in their work and were supported by teachers as they worked in groups. Students were challenged by the teaching and learning activities and were affirmed and encouraged for their efforts and contributions.
The quality of students’ understanding was reflected in their ability to ask and answer questions. There was evidence that students have the ability to apply their learning. In some instances, students’ skills and competencies were demonstrated through their abilities to complete and record tasks and through samples of their work. These included the design folders and the constructed pieces in Graphics and Construction, and the calendars in Visual Art. Students’ ICT skills were good and during the lesson observed, students demonstrated the ability to work independently. Students’ willingness to help each other provided evidence of good interpersonal skills. The learning outcomes were appropriate to the ability levels of students and this was evident from their tasks and key assignments. One good example of setting the learning outcomes to individual students’ ability levels was observed in the student task that is anchored in Graphics and Construction. Differentiation of work facilitated all students in constructing models that were challenging. This is laudable.
Personal and social development was facilitated in all lessons through various teaching and learning strategies including group and pair work and whole-class discussion. This is commended. There was some evidence of cross-curricular linking, a practice that is encouraged.
Overall, good quality teaching and learning was observed.
A range of assessment modes is regularly used to assess students’ competence and progress. These include key assignments and tasks, which are pre-requisites of the LCA, in addition to written work, technical drawings, artwork and questioning in class.
There was evidence that students’ written and practical activities work were monitored and in some instances annotated. This good practice should be employed to a greater extent. It is good to note that students received constructive feedback as they worked during lessons. Their progress was also monitored through the completion of the key assignments associated with particular modules. This year they are retained centrally. It is suggested that this good practice be extended and that copies of all completed key assignments be retained in a central storage area until completion of the appeals process following the Leaving Certificate examination.
Students’ interests were used in many instances to provide a focus for their tasks, thus facilitating engagement in the work. For example, a calendar was composed using pictures of various aspects of the lives of ‘The Simpsons’. Students created reports that incorporated aspects of planning, execution and evaluation of the tasks. It is clear that the students’ tasks facilitated the development of skills such as decision-making, initiative, and responsibility.
There was evidence of recording of attendance rates and assessment in teachers’ journals. This is good practice as it helps to build a profile of students’ engagement, progress and achievement in the subject over a period of time. A good level of contact is maintained between the school and parents. In addition to reports, ongoing information regarding students’ progress is also given to parents through annual parent teacher meetings and the student journal. This is praiseworthy.
Celebration of student achievement is achieved through the annual awards. Subject-specific and student-of-the-year awards are presented to the LCA students at the school’s prize-giving ceremony. This is highly commended.
4.1 Programme evaluation and review
Record keeping by the programme co-ordinator is of a high standard and is comprehensive. It is understood that the LCA curriculum and its implementation is evaluated by management and teachers in an informal manner on an annual basis. To build on this good practice, it is recommended that a formal evaluation of the programme be undertaken. This evaluation should involve all participants in the programme, including parents. The outcomes of evaluation should then feed into a review of the LCA.
4.2 Attainment of programme objectives
LCA students show a sense of belonging and interest in the programme. In the main, students’ attendance levels are good. A whole-school system for monitoring attendance operates in John the Baptist Community School. Subject teachers, year heads and the home-school-community liaison teacher all have a role in this regard. This practice assists in establishing students’ compliance with the ninety percent attendance requirement for each module in the LCA and is commended. It was stated that the programme contributes to the retention of students in the school until completion of Leaving Certificate. This is laudable.
There is evidence that students’ work as they progress through the programme has resulted in good achievement in State examinations. Students taking LCA have clear plans for future progression. Consideration could be given to maintaining data on the progression of students from the programme.
Cross-curricular integration, a key element of the programme is facilitated through tasks and key assignments in the main. The general education task that was anchored in Visual Art facilitated students in using their own interests to construct a range of calendars. In addition to the use of ICT, Mathematics was also incorporated in the work: the cost of producing the calendars forming a component of the subsequent written reports.
Commendably, students were also afforded the opportunity to develop organisational skills. One example of this is the Easter party that students hold for a local playgroup, a task that also facilitates cross-curricular integration with English. It was stated during the evaluation that ongoing informal interaction among teachers, supports the successful completion of tasks. This is laudable.
An opportunity for personal reflection was provided in some tasks where students wrote about a ‘golden moment’ that was experienced during the completion of the task. This opportunity to enhance students’ personal development 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 September 2008