An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Gallen Community School
Ferbane, Co Offaly
Roll Number: 91515W
Date of inspection: 12 November 2008
This report has been written following an evaluation of the transition year (TY) in Gallen Community School Ferbane. 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 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.
Gallen Community School Ferbane was formed as the result of an amalgamation of two neighbouring schools in Ferbane, County Offaly. This amalgamation successfully took place in 2004. At that point TY which had been offered in one of the original schools was offered to all students. The programme has grown and developed effectively. Gallen Community School Ferbane serves a rural hinterland in the area surrounding Ferbane.
1.1 Whole school support
There is very good whole-school support for the TY programme in Gallen Community School Ferbane. The senior management team in the school showed an in-depth knowledge and interest in the programme in the course of the evaluation. Particularly striking was the desire to keep the programme updated and to ensure that it meets the needs and interests of the students. The senior management team demonstrated great openness and enthusiasm for new ideas. This is most commendable.
It is clear from minutes of staff meetings that the TY programme is discussed in this forum with interest and concern. Members of the TY teaching team who met with the inspector in the course of the evaluation showed good awareness of the programme’s objectives and were very supportive of the programme. Morale among the teaching team was seen to be high. Communication is good among the members of the TY teaching team. However, in order to enhance communication, it is recommended that a dedicated TY notice board be placed in the staffroom. This will facilitate day-to-day communication. It is acknowledged that from time to time members of staff are concerned that TY students miss lessons as they are involved in outside activities or away on trips. However members of staff are to be commended for their facilitative approach in ensuring the delivery of a very rich TY programme.
In 2006, a full staff in-service relating to TY was held in the school. Subsequently the TY co-ordinator has attended a dedicated in-service course for co-ordinators, and other members of staff have also attended TY-specific in-service. Such commitment to professional development is laudable. It is recommended that all staff refer to the TY support service which lists all upcoming courses relevant to the programme. This information can be accessed at www.slss.ie. It is also recommended that, where teachers are assigned to teaching the programme for the first time, the co-coordinator prepare a pack of TY-related materials to ensure a formal induction to the programme takes place.
The TY programme is well resourced. Staff are appropriately assigned to the programme and a large number of staff are involved in the programme. Consideration could be given in the future to ascertaining teachers’ interests in delivering modules in the programme which are not directly related to their own subject specific expertise, but perhaps to other skills or expertise that teachers may have. It is recommended that teachers be surveyed regarding this to establish the possibility of the development of new modules in the programme.
The capitation grant is used effectively in supporting the TY programme. Students pay a registration fee which is the same as in all years in the school to cover insurance and other administrative charges. In the course of the evaluation, it was stated that parents are informed that the cost of participation in the programme may be up to one thousand euro. This is mainly because of the high cost of a European trip which is seen by the school as integral to the programme. It is recommended that this be reviewed. It is important to acknowledge that the main benefits of this programme in the school do not necessarily arise from foreign trips. The school needs to examine the extent to which the cost of the programme might be prohibitive to students who could benefit enormously from the skills they would acquire in the TY programme.
The other resources in the school used to support the programme are good. There is a dedicated TY classroom where the co-ordinator stores records relating to TY. A laptop, a digital camera and a video camera are available exclusively for the use of the TY co-ordinator and students. Information and communication technologies (ICT) are used effectively in the programme and students in TY have good access to the ICT resources in the school. This is praiseworthy.
1.3 Student selection and support
The TY programme is optional in the school. In the current year, twenty-nine students are following the TY programme. This represents approximately seventy-five per cent of the student cohort who could have done the programme and represents a good uptake. The number of boys in the programme outweighs the number of girls by a ratio of two to one. Gender balance among the student cohort in TY should be kept under review. As the programme is very successful in the school, it may be timely to review the optional status of the programme. This is because the vast majority of students in the school go on to take the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and the TY programme complements many of the skills that are developed in the LCVP.
Students are very well supported regarding their choice of programmes in the school. Students in third year receive comprehensive and timely guidance and information regarding the TY programme. Students reported that they had known about the TY programme since they were in primary school due to the fact that TY students at that time visited the primary school. Informal information about the programme arising from contacts with friends, siblings and neighbours was clearly a very important means of finding out about the TY programme. It is suggested that consideration be given to developing a TY brochure for prospective students and their parents. The creation of such an information brochure could in fact be a project for the TY students, with input and direction from staff and management.
1.4 Home, school and community links
Communication between the school and parents is very good. Parents of students in third year are invited to attend an information evening in the school regarding the TY programme. This is good practice. Letters are sent regularly from the school to parents regarding events in TY and parents are invited to attend events held in the school. A parent-teacher meeting is held annually for the parents of TY students and reports are sent home to parents to inform them about the students’ progress.
The school is to be highly commended for the links it has forged, through the TY programme, with the local community. These links encompass contacts with local businesses, other education providers such as Athlone Institute of Technology, and local charities and community centres. The school constantly seeks to build on existing links and to create new ones. This is praiseworthy.
TY students produce a newsletter each term entitled ‘The Examiner’ which is a colourful, well-produced document and provides a very useful mechanism for linking with students, parents and the wider community. This is to be commended.
Planning for the delivery of the TY programme in the school is very good. The school’s TY programme was presented in the course of evaluation. This has been prepared in line with the guidelines in the brochure entitled Writing the Transition Year Programme. All sections, including the school’s mission statement, the plans for all subjects and modules, and information on assessment are included in this document. The work in the development of the written TY programme is most laudable. Calendar events are also documented, although not all events for the year can be specified in advance. It is recommended that all teachers be required to submit as much information in advance about proposed outings or trips, so that a comprehensive calendar for TY activities can be prepared ahead of the school year. A copy of the TY calendar should be given to all teachers so that they will be aware when students are likely to be participating in events outside of school. This will assist planning at all levels in TY.
Review informs overall planning for the TY programme. At present this occurs in an informal manner. It is good practice that students are regularly asked their opinions about the programme. Staff and parents’ views are also sought. It is recommended that a formal review of the TY programme take place. Materials which will assist in such a formal review are available from the website of the TY support service at www.slss.ie.
The individual subject plans show, in most cases, a significant amount of detail about the content that will be covered and the intended student learning outcomes. This is effective planning. Some plans however need extensive work to match the level of detail of the majority of plans. It is recommended that the full TY written plan be made available to all members of the TY teaching team. This will facilitate the sharing of best practice.
Individual subject plans contain little detail on how subjects or modules will be evaluated or reviewed. It is recommended that all teachers become familiar with section two of the brochure Writing the Transition Year Programme. This gives very good information on how to write up subject plans for TY, including details on evaluation and review.
In planning documentation, little information is given about concrete cross-curricular activities. As a cross-curricular approach is core to the ethos of TY, it is recommended that a whole-staff approach be taken to developing strong cross-curricular links on an ongoing basis. It is also important that plans refer to approaches for mixed-ability teaching, especially with a focus on differentiation. It is recommended that, in light of the fact that TY class groups are mixed ability, strategies outlining differentiated approaches to teaching and learning be documented in all subject plans.
The programme is very well co-ordinated. The school has a programme co-ordinator post of responsibility in line with the Department of Education and Science circular letter 17/02. This has been assigned to the TY co-ordinator who has held the post for the past three years. A list of formal duties is provided by the management authorities of the school to the post holder. These are comprehensive and appropriate to the post. In addition, as a post holder, the co-ordinator is required to give a report at the end of each academic year on the work that has been undertaken. This is in line with best practice.
The co-ordinators duties involve organisational and administrative tasks associated with the TY programme. In addition, the co-ordinator liaises with the staff, parents and wider school community. The co-ordinator is year head to the TY group and thus has pastoral duties and deals with disciplinary matters if they arise. The co-ordinator has access to the school office facilities and ICT support.
At present, there is not a core TY team in place to support the extensive work of the co-ordinator. It is recommended that a core team of teachers be put in place if resources permit.
Curriculum provision in the TY programme in Gallen Community School Ferbane is very good. In accordance with the aims of the TY programme, the four layers – core, choice, modular and calendar – are all present in the school’s programme. All students study Irish, English, Mathematics and French. Subject sampling is available in Computers, Physics/Chemistry, Business, Woodwork, Engineering, Art, Music, Accounting, Home Economics, Physical Education (PE) and Agricultural Science. Students have a module in Guidance. It is commendable that Guidance is formally part of the timetable in TY. In addition, students have dedicated time to work on mini-companies and to study for the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). A wide range of calendar events relating to sports, fund raising, marketing, ICT and local enterprise are also arranged. The school is to be commended for offering a broad and balanced curriculum in TY.
The TY students have responsibility for staging a musical each year. This is a truly cross-curricular aspect of the TY programme in the school. To build on the good practice represented by the musical, it is recommended that consideration be given to developing innovative modules which would be interdisciplinary. For example, mini-company as a module could occupy more time on the TY timetable and could incorporate elements of accounting and business. Health education could incorporate aspects of Home Economics, PE, Biology, Chemistry and social education. Environmental studies could incorporate aspects of Biology, Agricultural Science and Geography. It was clear from lesson observation that there is overlap between existing elements of the TY programme. Therefore it would be beneficial for subject departments to work together to explore the overlap and to create cross-curricular links as described above.
The work experience element of the curriculum provides a very valuable opportunity for TY students to gain insights into the world of work. Students have one week of work experience in each of the second and the third terms. Students are given a very detailed list of contacts which have been built up by the school over time. The onus is on the students to make the contact with prospective employers. During the week of work experience, an assessment form is furnished to the employer to fill out about students’ participation and progress in the course of the placement. The school is to be commended for the manner in which TY work experience is organised.
Social education is provided for in the TY programme, mainly through Religion classes, links with the community, guest speakers and also through annual fundraising activities. In order to enhance the social education dimension of the programme, consideration could be given to the organization of community work. It is also recommended that consideration be given to participation in the Young Social Innovators programme which is designed specifically for TY. Further information about YSI can be obtained from www.youngsocialinnovators.ie.
3.1 Planning and preparation for teaching
Long-term planning for subjects and modules has been dealt with in section 2.2 above. It was evident from lesson observation that the majority of lessons were well planned in advance. Appropriate resources, materials and handouts had all been carefully prepared. Where ICT was being used, this too had been prepared in advance. In some instances teachers provided very comprehensive lesson plans. These plans contained detailed student learning outcomes, aims, objectives, methodologies and information on assessment. This is most praiseworthy. The effective short-term planning is to be commended. In order to ensure good learning outcomes for the students, it is recommended that further advance planning for differentiated learning activities takes place.
3.2 Learning and teaching
In the course of the evaluation, a wide range of lessons including core and optional were observed. Some lessons were more practical in nature and others more theoretical. Lesson content in the majority of lessons was very good. The subject matter in those lessons was of interest to the learners and appropriate to their needs. It is recommended that, in all lessons, content be determined by the interests of the students. It is particularly important that materials used be up-to-date. Lessons were very well paced. The learners progressed from one activity to the next in a seamless manner. Good pacing of content delivery and activities ensured effective learning outcomes. This is commendable.
Effective teaching methodologies were used in many of the lessons observed. Best practice was observed in a number of lessons where short teacher inputs were followed by group work. In these lessons, teacher circulation was very good. Student work was closely monitored and teachers gave individual students help as it was needed. It was clear in these lessons that student learning was of a high quality. It is recommended that active teaching methodologies such as group and pair work be extended to all lessons. Consideration should also be given to using the technique of brainstorming in the course of lessons so students can draw on previous learning. This is useful in order to reinforce previous knowledge.
In the lessons observed classroom management of students was excellent. Very good discipline was maintained in all lessons. The classroom atmosphere was very good. Student-teacher rapport was seen to be very good and mutual respect between teachers and students was evident. The learning environment in lessons was good and conducive to good learning outcomes. Best practice was seen where student work was on display. This is commendable and to be encouraged as it gives students a greater sense of ownership over their environment.
A wide range of techniques is used to assess students’ progress and their learning outcomes. In the course of lesson observation, students were assessed mainly by means of regular questioning or allowing some time for class discussion. This is good practice. Homework was assigned in some of the lessons observed. It is recommended that students be encouraged to record all homework, project work and assignments in their journals. Project work is an important means of assessment in TY in the school. It is recommended that research skills be taught to students to ensure that they are able to extract the most important information. This is particularly important where students are using the internet for research purposes.
The portfolio is the primary means of assessment in TY. Each student is responsible for completing assignments and tasks to the best of their ability and in the time allocated. The portfolio represents a broad and useful compilation of the work the students have completed in TY. It is suggested that consideration be given to enhancing this form of assessment by including a student interview based on the portfolio. This will ensure that students’ oral presentation skills are also assessed. Certification is an important component of assessment in TY. Students are awarded a certificate of participation in the programme. The certificates are graded and students receive a distinction, merit or pass. Certificates are also awarded for successful completion of other elements of the TY programme such as the school musical, self-defense, driving school and for fundraising activities. This year they will also receive a certificate for participation in Microsoft Academy. If individual teachers wish to acknowledge any outstanding achievement they can award a certificate for this purpose. It is suggested that consideration be given to awarding certificates in languages other than English, for example certificates in Irish or French could be awarded for achievements in those subjects. TY students are presented with their certificates and a number of special awards at a ceremony at the end of the academic year.
Formal school reports are sent home at Christmas and students receive a final assessment at the end of the academic year. In the parent-teacher meeting for TY students, an emphasis is placed on informing parents about their children’s’ progress in terms of the portfolio, effort, initiative, creativity, general attitude and behaviour. This is praiseworthy as a conscious effort is made on the part of the TY teaching team to give students recognition for the development of skills that are core to the ethos of TY and which differentiate it from other curricular programmes in the school.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is very good whole-school support for the TY programme in Gallen Community School Ferbane.
· A strong level of commitment to professional development is evident among the TY teaching team.
· The TY programme is well resourced. Members of the teaching staff are appropriately assigned to the programme and a large number of staff members are involved
in the programme. Communication between the school and parents is very good.
As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that a core team of TY teachers be put in place if resources permit.
· As a cross-curricular approach is core to the ethos of TY, it is recommended that a whole-staff approach be taken to developing strong cross-curricular links in the
TY curriculum on an ongoing basis.
· It is recommended that students be encouraged to record all homework, project work and assignments in their journals. As project work is an important means of
assessment in TY in the school, it is recommended that research skills be taught to students to ensure that they are able to extract the most important information.
Published, October 2009
Submitted by the Board of Management
Area 1 Observations on the content of the inspection report
The Board of Management wish to acknowledge the excellent work being carried out in the school in relation to the TY Programme as witnessed in this report. The Board of Management would particularly like to acknowledge that:
The Board wish to express their thanks to the Inspection team for their professionalism and courtesy.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection
activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.
As recommended in the report a review of the TY Programme will be undertaken keeping in mind “as the programme is very successful in the school, it may be time to review the optional status of the programme”.
The Board of Management will encourage the establishment of a core team of teachers.
Senior Management will re-examine the timetabling of certain aspects of the programme to encourage greater cross-curricular links and the development of a research skills programme.